Murray Co. Schools responds to Long verdict, will not seek expenses
(WRCB) - The long court battle involving the 2009 suicide of Tyler Long is apparently over. Officials with the Murray County school system are now speaking out about the lawsuit of David and Tina Long alleging that bullying in Murray County schools was the cause of the suicide of their 17-year-old son.
A federal court recently ruled that the Longs had not provided evidence that the school district intentionally ignored reports that Tyler was the frequent target of bullying. The Longs continue to maintain that the court found the school district lacking in many key areas involving the the treatment and handling of their son's condition.
A posting on the family's website says, "The Court finds that Plaintiffs' evidence is sufficient for a jury to conclude that the harassment of Tyler was sufficiently severe and pervasive that it altered the condition of his education and create an abusive educational environment."
However, the Court continued, " (We) cannot find that Defendants' response to students' disability harassment of Tyler constitutes deliberate indifference. Although Plaintiffs establish that Defendants should have done more to address disability harassment, Plaintiffs fail to meet the high bar of deliberate indifference and demonstrate that Defendants' response was clearly unreasonable."
The school district's insurance company recently filed a bill of cost requesting repayment for the cost of producing copies requested by the Long family's attorney during the court action. An agreement has been reached between the family and the insurance company. The Longs are no longer being asked to pay the company, in exchange for deciding not to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.
MURRAY COUNTY SCHOOL OFFICIALS SPEAK OUT
Murray County School officials, including Superintendent Dr. Vickie Reed, have consistently declined to discuss the case, citing legal restrictions. However, Administrative Services Director Mike Tuck has now released a statement to media outlets:
"There has been considerable misinformation in the press regarding the Tyler Long litigation. Since his tragic death, Murray County School District has been under underserved attack. Despite the many inaccuracies reported in the media, the District was directed by legal counsel to remain silent. Now that the District has prevailed in the courts, and those restrictions have been lifted, we feel to let the public hear the other side of the story.
Most recently, there have been false reports that District was suing the Longs, following the recent filing of the bill of costs in federal court by the Insurance Company for the School District. The filing of a bill of costs at the conclusion of a case is routine because the rule in our courts is that the losing party pays the court costs. This does not include attorneys fees. The School District never initiated or intended to initiate any effort to collect those costs from the Longs. Any such decision would have rested solely with the insurance company and it never took any steps to do so. Despite representations in the press and by individuals relying on those reports, no "lawsuit" against the Longs was filed by the insurer or the School District. The only lawsuit that has been filed was initiated by the Longs and two courts have now agreed that that suit was without legal merit. Murray County Schools have never "sued" the Longs. It is the District's job to educate, not litigate, and based on recent test scores and other indicia, the District is doing a terrific job of educating the children of Murray County.
Hopefully, those concerned about the issues raised in the Tyler Long litigation will inform themselves by actually reading the briefs and evidence submitted to the District Court by the School District, as well the opinion of the Judge in the District Court, before commenting further on the facts. Were that to be done, they would discover that two Federal Courts have dismissed the Long's claims that Murray County Schools and Principal Gina Linder were somehow at a fault in the death of their son, Tyler. The claim of the Longs that Tyler's death was the result of bullying was rejected by the Federal Courts. The real facts are in stark contrast to what has been eagerly and gullibly reported by most of the media since the Longs filed their lawsuit seeking a million dollars from the taxpayers of Murray County and traveling the country on a media campaign.
The facts surrounding the tragic suicide of Tyler Long, can be found in the in the Federal District Court's Decision. Tyler's suicide occurred at home in October of 2009. According to the Federal Court Order, Mr. and Mrs. Long had reason to believe that their son was suicidal, sought care of a psychologist for him, but then failed to notify the School of that fact. Furthermore, Tyler Long failed to follow through with his course of psychological treatment, missing a follow-up visit less than two weeks prior to his suicide. According the court order, on September 26, 2009, Tyler wrecked his car and was cited for failure to yield, and was fearful of losing his driver's license. Further, Tyler had a girlfriend at the beginning of eleventh grade (Fall 2009), with whom he had broken up with .
One of the Federal Appellate Judges, prior to the second Federal Court's ruling against the Longs, inquired into the significance of the suicide note. The note made no mention of school or bullying. The note begins as follows:
If you are reading this I am DEAD. I don't want to live any longer with this burden I have. I don't have a supporting family or friends for that matter. You think I am worthless and pathetic. All I wanted was acceptance and kindness, but no I didn't get love…
The United States District Judge found that Based on their communication with Ms. Long, Defendants could have reasonably believed that their efforts to combat harassment were succeeding.
On May 7, 2008, Ms. Long sent an email to Gina Linder:
You have given us the help that we needed. can't believe the wonderful faculty that we have encountered this year. I hope that when Tyler graduates, we will all have a great success story to share with others. I know that we may need your help and support in the next few years, but I have no doubt that we can depend on you.
Please thank all of Tyler's teachers for me. Please feel free to share our feelings. Everyone needs praise for a job well done. Tyler had a very rough time in middle school. We struggled and had to fight for so much. How easy you made it for him to grow.
In March 2008, Principal Gina Linder was copied on an email from Ms. Long to another staff member at Murray County High School. It included the following:
I wanted to say the good. We sometimes only hear the bad. Several "people" have personally called me asking that one or both of my kids could go to the new high school. As I explained to the kids, it's not about one or two teachers. It's not about friends. It's about the support in that school as a whole that will make you a success. I feel honored that the kids will be attending school with people such as yourselves. My kids will get into trouble. They will be troubled. But, I believe they will get the help they need. Sometimes parents don't make the most popular choice, but hopefully we make the best choice. I feel confident that we have the tools in you to get them through anything that may come. Honestly, thank you all. Instead of the situation being terrible, it helped confirm that my kids are right where they should be.
The Court found that Murray County Schools received no reports of harassment from December 2008 until after Tyler's death in October 2009. The Judge went on to say, outside of investigating reported incidents and disciplining or working with offenders, the evidence shows that Murray County Schools took reasonable steps to prevent abuse. The undisputed evidence shows that Murray County Schools' disciplinary responses successfully deterred students from harassing Tyler again. Significantly, no student who received discipline from the school ever caused problems for Tyler again after being disciplined. Defendants' response to the reported incidents was therefore 100 percent effective.
The rulings of the Federal Courts were accurate and served the interests of the law and justice. Obviously, the Murray County School family continues to mourn the loss of Tyler Long and our sympathy remains with his family. While we will never forget Tyler, now that the courts have spoken, and the case is over, the Board, Superintendent and all of the staff of the School District are hopeful that the conversation will focus on the education provided to the students of Murray County reflecting the excellent job being done by teachers and staff throughout the District."
The District has posted court documents on its website for viewing at www.murray.k12.ga.us.
LONG FAMILY RESPONDS
Here is a statement from David and Tina Long:
"The Murray County School System has agreed to drop all litigation to recover court costs if we agree not to appeal to the Supreme Court.
While this decision had to be made, this has been both heartbreaking and devastating for our family. Our resolve has never been about money, merely justice for our son. With a $30,000 possible cost against us we had to consider what is best for our children. Our motivation has always been to inspire positive change, advocate and find SOLUTIONS, so no other child will have to endure the constant, severe and pervasive bullying that Tyler endured. We resolved this cost dispute so we can move forward in affecting positive change through non‐combatant means.
The end of our litigation, however, does not mean that we will end our efforts to stop bullying in our schools. We have lost a son and will never be able to see what his future would have been. We can only imagine what he could have become. Laws are not strong enough and as a parent we all need to become more aware and advocate for a better future for our children.
From this tragedy we request, on the behalf of all students, parents, and faculty of MCSD, that MCSD implement the only program we have found that offers the SOLUTIONS needed to prevent future tragedies like Tyler's peer abuse driven bullycide, from occurring in our community.
In keeping with our mission to create positive change and help schools implement proven SOLUTIONS to equip students and schools to prevent bullying, cyber bullying, suicides and numerous other unwanted incidents, we hope MCSD's leadership will take immediate and proactive actions to address the judges comments regarding the school's involvement:
"The Court finds that Plaintiffs' evidence is sufficient for a jury to conclude that the harassment of Tyler was sufficiently severe and pervasive that it altered the condition of his education and created an abusive educational environment. First, the evidence shows that Tyler suffered harassment that went well beyond the bounds of "teasing and mere name‐calling among school children."
Plaintiffs provide a wealth of evidence establishing that Tyler suffered from severe, nearly constant bullying. Students called Tyler names and pushed him in the hallways nearly "every day," students harassed Tyler in his Spanish, English, math, and guitar class, and witnesses reported numerous incidents of students picking on Tyler in the bathroom and the cafeteria. In addition, there is evidence of numerous incidents of physical bullying."
All students deserve a safe learning environment. If MCSD's leadership can accept accountability for their role in protecting students and implement a multifaceted, proven, central secure prevention platform like Awareity's TIPS platform, we would acknowledge their efforts.
Murray County School System...our children, teachers, and parents are crying out for help. Implement TIPS and give them protection."
Contact The Longs: