Bullying, sexual assault led to student's suicide after school staff didn't intervene: Lawsuit

The school's employees knew about the bullying early on, the lawsuit says.

May 29, 2019, 6:06 PM

A New York City high schooler who took her own life after she was allegedly bullied and forced to perform sexual acts on other students had experienced the abuse since she began attending the school, and school staff knew about it but did not intervene, a lawsuit by the girl's parents alleges.

Mya Vizcarrondo-Rios jumped 34 stories from the roof of her apartment building with her backpack still on shortly after 2 p.m. on Feb. 28, 2018, and was pronounced dead at the hospital about an hour later. She was 15 years old.

Employees at Harry S. Truman High School in the Bronx, New York, knew that Mya was being bullied "almost daily" and that she had developed "severe emotional pain and depression" as a result of the bullying, which began shortly after she started attending the high school in September 2017 and lasted five months until her death, the lawsuit filed in Bronx Supreme Court alleges.

The lawsuit goes on to say that the school's staff did not intervene and failed to notify Mya's parents, Heribierto Rios and Nelly Vizcarrondo.

The lawsuit accuses the City of New York and the New York City Department of Education of causing Mya’s death due to “their negligence, carelessness, recklessness and unlawfulness.”

“The tragic circumstances surrounding my client's death could have been prevented,” said John Scola, the parents’ attorney, in a statement. “We hope that this case will cause the New York City Department of Education to reevaluate their policies and properly train their employees on issues related to bullying so that no student feels so hopeless they believe suicide is the answer."

Mya was an honor student who had perfect attendance prior to the bullying, the lawsuit states, but she began missing school beginning in late 2017 as a result of the bullying, which included body shaming, harassment and physical and verbal abuse.

Her declining attendance led to a meeting between Mya's parents and her guidance counselor on Jan. 24, 2018. During the meeting, the lawsuit says the school's principal, Keri Alfano, and the school's dean — both of whom were also at the meeting — told Mya's parents that she would need to sign in for each class to ensure she was attending.

The lawsuit says that despite employees at the school having "actual" and "constructive notice" of the abuse, they did not inform Mya's parents about the bullying in that meeting.

Mya met with her guidance counselor and Alfano on separate occasions to talk about the bullying, according to the lawsuit, which says that the guidance counselor once told Mya she would investigate but that she never did. The meeting with Alfano, meanwhile, ended with Mya being “ignored and simply sent back to class without any intervention by the school,” according to the lawsuit, which says Mya’s parents were not told about either meeting.

PHOTO: Harry S. Truman High School in the Bronx, N.Y.
Harry S. Truman High School in the Bronx, N.Y.
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On Feb. 27, 2018, the lawsuit says Mya's guidance counselor appeared at Mya's gym class after one of Mya's friends told her about problems Mya was having.

The guidance counselor "assessed [Mya] for any signs of physical or verbal abuse," according to the lawsuit, which says that "[f]ollowing this conversation...the guidance counselor, despite saying she would do so in [Mya's] guidance review card, again failed to notify [Mya's parents] that [Mya] was having problems at school so they could lookout for any harm [Mya] could cause herself including but in no way limited to acting on suicidal ideations."

After participating in a show in the school's auditorium the next morning, Mya was taken into the back of the unlocked and unsupervised auditorium by two boys and "forced to perform a sex act on the two students," the lawsuit says, adding that Mya was then made fun of by students in the school.

Mya then left school early "without a note or reason to do so," the lawsuit states, adding that she went home unnoticed and without teachers searching for her.

Just hours later, Mya jumped from the roof of her apartment building, the lawsuit says.

The guidance counselor was later fired by the Department of Education for “the improper handling of the bullying of” Mya, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims that the school was negligent in providing safety to Mya while she was under the school's care and that because the school staff did not notice that Mya had left, the dean and principal had "misrepresented" the requirement that Mya would have to sign in.

"If the representation that [Mya] was required to sign in at each class were true, her absence would have triggered a notification of the parents or a search as to [Mya's] whereabouts and prevented her death," the lawsuit says.

“This was a tragic loss, and students deserve safe and supportive school environments,” said Doug Cohen, a spokesperson for the New York City Department of Education, in a statement. “We recognize the deep impact bullying can have, and schools are required to immediately investigate and address any allegation. We’ll continue to invest in anti-bullying and safe schools initiatives.”