The parents of a teenage boy who committed suicide after being targeted by bullies filed a lawsuit against district where he attended school, alleging officials knew their son was being targeted but did nothing to protect him.
Matthew Burdette's parents are suing the San Diego Unified School District after a video of the teen masturbating went viral, leading to severe bullying that caused their son to take his life. The Burdettes allege school officials at University City High School where Matthew,14, attended knew about the video and the bullying yet did nothing to intervene.
Matthew killed himself during the Thanksgiving holiday in 2013. He left behind a suicide note for his family that shed light on the harassment he was enduring from classmates. "He said, I can't do school anymore," Matthew's aunt Laura Burdette Mechak said to ABC 10. "I have no friends. I don't want to kill myself but I have no friends."
After his death, family members turned to University City High School looking for answers. What could have happened at school to drive their son, a Boy Scout and member of the wrestling team, to kill himself? Mechak said school officials refused to give them any insight into what was going on with Matthew. "Kids came forward to help them figure out what was going on," she told ABC 10. It was then that the family first became aware of the video.
After months of investigating, this is what the family knows so far. On Nov. 15, Matthew was kicked out of a classroom for eating sunflower seeds. His teacher gave him no direction on where to go or what to do (she didn't send him to the principal's office; she just told him to leave the class). That's when he went to the bathroom and reportedly began to masturbate in one of stalls. At that point, another student entered the bathroom and peered over the door. He used his phone to record Matthew masturbating. Video taping someone engaging in a sexual act without their consent is disturbing and completely horrifying on its own, but don't forget this is the age where everything gets shared on the Internet. Sure enough, the student immediately shared the footage via Snapchat and other social media sites.
That's where Matthew's nightmare began. I don't think we have to explain that high school students and sexually explicit material are a bad combination which only seem to lead to brutal torment from teenagers. As you can imagine, Matthew was relentlessly teased about the video. Mechak detailed the extent of the teasing, which went way past a few schoolyard bullies.
"It went viral. It went beyond his school," she said. "It went to other schools in California. Kids in the neighborhood who didn't go to Matthew's school had heard about it and seen the video that was taken of him.
After two weeks of the bullying, Matthew reached his breaking point. His body was found on Nov. 29.
Let all of that sink in for a moment. A 14-year-old boy who was just barely beginning to experience life committed suicide because of a viral video. Because someone invaded his privacy and violated him in a gross and inhumane way. Because we live in an age where it's easier to click a button and "LOL OMG" than it is to actually think about what we're doing. There really aren't any words to describe how sickening that is.
According to Tony Perry with the LA Times, the student who shot the video confessed and was arrested for the crime:
The San Diego County district attorney's office declined to say whether the boy who the claim says took the video might face charges under the state's anti-bullying law. However, a spokesman for the district attorney said a hearing is set for July 23 in juvenile court on the matter.
Now, Burdette's parents are pursuing legal action against the school. In their claim, Matthew's family puts the blame squarely on school administrators and teachers, who they say knew about the video, yet never informed them or tried to stop it. Mechak said the school violated the California Student Safety and Violence Prevention Act of 2000 and the California Safe Place Act. The Burdettes are seeking $1 million but the suit is more about accountability.
ABC 10 couldn't get district officials to agree to an on-camera interview, but did get them to provide answers to some questions via email:
1. What disciplinary actions were taken against the student who admitted to police and school officials to taking the video of Matthew Burdette inside the bathroom at UCHS in November of 2013? District response: Issues regarding student discipline are confidential.
2. Did the school district know about the video circulating on snap chat, vine, and other social media taken of Burdette in the school¹s bathroom before his death? District response: No.
3. What actions did the school district take following the death of Matthew Burdette? For example, was there a seminar about suicide or bullying for the student body or counselors available after his death? District response: On Dec. 17, all University City High School students were invited to attend assemblies on the topic of teen suicide. Parents could request that their child not attend the assembly. The school hosted an informational meeting about teen suicide that same night for parents and community members. The information at the assemblies and meeting was general in nature and not about any particular incident.
The district also offered a statement to the press on Monday. "At San Diego Unified, the safety and well-being of our students is a top priority, the statement read. "The district also adheres to the privacy and confidentiality laws and regulations related to students, families and ongoing investigations. For this reason, the district cannot provide details about Matthew Burdette's death. Our hearts and thoughts continue to be with his family and loved ones."
Image via KGTV//Burdette family.