Jan. 19, 2010 — -- A former friend of Phoebe Prince, the girl who hanged herself after she was allegedly bullied at her Boston area high school, now says that she too is being tormented by her peers so badly that she has considered suicide.
Payton Spinney, 16, and her mother, Jennifer Kalvinek, say that the teasing began when South Hadley High School did not deliver on a promise to provide special educational and psychological accommodations for Spinney, who has Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism.
The school denies the allegations that the plan was never brought to fruition.
"The school never implemented the plan and as a result, Payton became depressed and suicidal. Kids tease her and taunt her," said Abigail Williams, Spinney's attorney.
"This is a school that had the obligation to accommodate her disability and just never did," said Williams. "And so when we're talking about Phoebe Prince and how things have changed, Payton is the poster child for someone who should not have fallen through the cracks."
Prince was a 15-year-old girl who had moved to the area from Ireland. She hanged herself Jan. 14, 2010 and her family blamed her death on teenagers at the school who bullied her relentlessly. Six teenagers from South Hadley High School are awaiting trial on felony charges in relation to her death.
Like Prince, Spinney recently moved to the area and had been friends with Prince. In addition, Spinney's family lives in a shelter for the homeless. Her lawyer claims she has been tormented, including having had food thrown at her.
The school, critics have charged, has done little to stop the alleged bullying or take actions that would help Spinney cope with the school.
"You'd think if there was one school system in America that's on high alert it would be this one," said Darby O'Brien, a parent in the school district who has been critical of South Hadley's response to bullying since Prince died.
According to Williams, the special education plan was supposed to give Spinney the opportunity to meet with a counselor for 30 minutes a week to discuss her interactions with other students and her coping mechanisms. Spinney's teachers were also supposed to sit her in a seat during class that would be exposed to minimal distractions and were instructed to give the sophomore extra time on tests and extra time on complex homework assignments, said Williams.
But Spinney has found herself a target, the lawyer said. Just last week, Spinney threatened to punch a child who was teasing her, said Williams.
"Spinney was sent home, but that was a hallmark of her Asperger's," she said. "She's never taken a punch at someone and she has since told me that she didn't actually intend on punching the kid. She just wanted him to get away from her."
"Maybe if we had done some work on her socialization, this wouldn't have happened," said Williams.