Did a Middle School Protect Bullies Who Mocked a Girl's Yeast Infection?

A thirteen-year-old girl says she was relentlessly bullied at her Pennsylvania middle school after kids found out she had a yeast infection. Now a judge says she can sue.

According to Courthouse News Service, Barbara and George Price filed a suit on behalf of their daughter, identified only as O.P., in 2011. The suit alleges that in 2009, when O.P. was in seventh grade at South Scranton Intermediate School, some of her fellow students found out she had a yeast infection and started making fun of her. They made a "scratching sound" at her and called her a bitch and a whore (among other names), allegedly in full view of teachers. In 2010, O.P. finally told her parents what was going on. They called the school to complain, but one of O.P.'s tormentors was apparently the daughter of a teacher. Instead of reprimanding this girl, school officials allegedly met with her and coached her on what to say to the principal in order to avoid being punished. The only punishment any of the alleged bullies ever received was a ban on sitting together in the cafeteria, and a requirement that they write apology letters to O.P. (which they never did). Meanwhile, they continued to mock O.P. and to try to isolate her from her remaining friends; the suit says she got depressed and anxious, and considered suicide. The suit accuses the school, the alleged bullies, and their parents of intention infliction of emotional distress, invasion of privacy, defamation, and fostering a hostile environment violation of Title IX.

Now U.S. District Judge Joel Slomsky has dismissed all but the last charge. He says the Prices' allegations, if true, would constitute a Title IX violation by the school — specifically, reacting with "deliberate indifference" to the existence of "a sexually hostile educational environment." The Scranton School District now has 20 days to respond. The current principal of South Scranton Intermediate School has not yet responded to my request for comment. Interestingly, the district's website does have an entire section on bullying, including a bulling policy that states, "consequences and appropriate remedial actions for a student who commits one or more acts of harassment or bullying may range from positive behavioral interventions up to and including suspension or expulsion." However, the policy also states,

The Scranton School Board of Education believes that the best discipline is self-imposed, and that it is the responsibility of staff to use disciplinary situations as opportunities for helping students learn to assume responsibility and the consequences of their behavior. Staff members who interact with students shall apply best practices designed to prevent discipline problems and encourage students' abilities to develop self-discipline.

Maybe South Scranton Intermediate officials just hoped that O.P.'s alleged bullies would learn to police themselves? Also pretty interesting is a PowerPoint presentation detailing an anti-bullying effort that apparently took place at South Scranton Intermediate in fall 2010, right in the middle of O.P.'s alleged torment. The program included a contest to design a symbol to serve as "a constant reminder that bullying will not be ignored in South Intermediate," and the PowerPoint includes three full screens explaining "What happens when bullying is ignored" (example: the "target" suffers "depression" and "suicidal thoughts"). If the Prices' allegations are true, it sounds like the South Scranton Intermediate administration needed to pay more attention to its own programs.

School May Be Liable for Yeast Infection Bullying [Courthouse News Service]