[Fox News] NJ school district to pay $9.1M settlement to family of bullied girl, 12, who took her own life

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This story discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please contact the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

A New Jersey school district must pay a $9.1 million settlement to the family of Mallory Grossman, a 12-year-old middle school student who died by suicide in 2017 after enduring an estimated nine months of bullying from her peers.

Dianne and Seth Grossman filed a 30-page wrongful death lawsuit against Rockaway Township, its school district and school board in 2018, alleging that despite having “numerous communications” with Copeland Middle School officials to discuss the bullying their daughter was being subjected to, administrators failed to take appropriate action, resulting in Mallory’s death.

The lawsuit “triggered the national debate on bullying and teen suicide, which was long overdue,” Grossman family attorney Bruce Nagel of Nagel Rice, LLP, told Fox News Digital, adding that he hopes the large settlement “sends a strong signal to schools around the country” that “now is the time to prevent bullying and suicide among students.”

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Rockaway Township School District Superintendent Dr. Greg McGann stepped down in 2018 following news of Mallory’s death.

Youth suicide attempts have continued to spike since 2017, and the coronavirus pandemic made matters worse when schools were forced to close and children had to turn to online learning. During the pandemic, 5,568 youth between the ages of 5 and 24 died of suicide in the United States, according to the National Institutes of Health, “which was higher than the expected number of deaths had the pandemic not occurred.”

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The disturbing trend has appeared to continue in the years since the pandemic, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting earlier this year a nearly 60% increase in teenage girls considering suicide between 2001 and 2021.

In Mallory’s case, the bullying occurred not only at Copeland Middle School, but on phones and social media apps, including Snapchat.

The lawsuit states that bullies told Mallory, “You have no friends,” and asked her, “When are you going to kill yourself?”

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The day before her death in the school cafeteria, as Mallory approached a lunch table, one student told her, “You can’t sit here, you have no friends,” according to the lawsuit.

Dianne Grossman previously told Fox News in 2019 that her daughter came downstairs from her room crying, cellphone in hand, the day before she took her own life. She showed her parents screenshots of videos from Snapchat. Other girls had recorded Mallory on the social media app and captioned the videos, “You have no friends,” and “When are you going to kill yourself?”

The next day, she was found hanging in her bedroom closet.

The Grossmans and the defendants reached the settlement — which Nagel said is the largest settlement ever reached in a U.S. bullying case — after five years of litigation. The Rockaway Township School District and school board leadership did not immediately respond to inquiries from Fox News Digital.

“I think schools will take bullying a lot more seriously,” Nagel said. 

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The Grossmans have spent the last five years trying to educate the public and schools about the dangers of bullying as “an epidemic” through their nonprofit, “Mallory’s Army,” their attorney explained, and the settlement will help them continue their efforts to do so.

Mallory loved cheerleading, gymnastics, playing with her two dogs and her older sister, her mom previously told Fox News.

“Mallory was truly the most all-American little girl. She loved sports. She loved nature. She loved hand-making crafts,” Dianne Grossman said in 2019. “I remember how she would re-purpose blue jeans, cutting the seams to make pocketbooks and give them as gifts to her friends.” 

Dianne Grossman also said Mallory was”overly sensitive.” “When she told me about these things, I thought it was just kids being kids. I brushed it off as her being hypersensitive,” she said.

The American Psychological Association (APA) says parents who are concerned that their child is being bullied should look out for signs of distress in their children, such as “ripped clothing, hesitation about going to school, decreased appetite, nightmares, crying, or general depression and anxiety” and have open-ended conversations about bullying to try and learn exactly what is going on at school. Teachers and administrators should contact parents to alert them of any bullying involving their kids at school, according to APA.

Parents should also set boundaries with technology and social media apps, “report all threatening messages to the police,” and “document any text messages, emails, or posts on websites.” Seeing help from counselors and psychologists can also help children develop a resilience to bullying, according to APA.

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