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High court rules in favor of Pitt County mother, 3 children in bullying, harassment case

Updated: Jun. 14, 2021 at 8:13 AM EDT
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PITT COUNTY, N.C. (WITN) - North Carolina’s highest court has ruled in favor of a Pitt County mother and her three children, who were subjected to bullying and harassment at a Pitt County elementary school during the 2016-2017 school year.

On Dec. 11, 2017, plaintiff Ashley Deminski filed a complaint in Superior Court against the State Board of Education. Court documents state Deminski filed in response to the board’s alleged “deliberate indifference” to the “hostile academic environment” at Lake Forest Elementary School where her three children were enrolled. She alleged that her children “were each denied their rights to a sound basic education” as a result.

Deminski says, “You’re supposed to keep my kids safe. I’m supposed to trust that you’re going to keep my kids safe. And yet you’re not.”

Her attorney Troy Shelton says, “It’s outrageous what happened. There is absolutely no parent in the state that would tolerate what happened to these children and no children should have to suffer through that.”

According to the complaint, the school board allowed one of the children to be “repeatedly and severely bullied” by two particular students, and to be “repeatedly harassed sexually by two other students,” during the 2016-2017 school year.

Court documents say the other two children are diagnosed with autism, and while enrolled at Lakeforest Elementary, the complaint alleges the school board allowed both students to be harassed, “including sexual conduct, constant verbal interruptions laced with vulgarity, and physical violence including knocking students’ items onto the floor, throwing objects, and pulling books and other items off shelves onto the ground.”

According to the complaint, one of the minor plaintiffs “repeatedly informed her teacher of each of the acts by the four students,” while Deminski “repeatedly notified the teacher, assistant principal and principal in efforts to resolve the situation.” The school personnel’s response was the “process” would “take time.”

The school and trial court dismissed the case. Monday, Pitt County Schools released this statement saying, “At this time, the North Carolina Supreme Court has decided that the allegations of Ms. Deminski’s complaint constitute a claim that can withstand a motion to dismiss. Pitt County Schools denies the allegations of Ms. Deminski’s complaint and will aggressively defend itself as the litigation continues. While Pitt County Schools is deeply disappointed in the North Carolina Supreme Court’s decision which expands legal risk for all K-12 school systems in North Carolina, Pitt County Schools believes that it will ultimately prevail in this litigation.”

On Friday, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of Deminski and her three children. The court says the state constitution can be used to let individual students seek help from the courts when access to a sound basic education is denied due to harassment or unsafe schools, according to the Associated Press.

Chief Justice Paul Newby wrote that the right to an education rings hollow if instruction occurs in a threatening and intimidating setting.

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