On September 20, 2017, a judge approved a $100,000 settlement for a fourth grade girl who said that she was bullied so severely by other students that she was prescribed anti-anxiety medication that the school nurse refused to give her.  Her anxiety became so severe, her suit alleges, that she attempted to harm herself landing her in a crisis center.  The girl had attended the Alice Costello School which is operated by the Brooklawn (Camden County) Board of Education.

In her suit, the female student identified only by her initials J.R., said that in 2012, when she was a fourth grader at the Alice Costello School in 2012, three other students, also identified only by their initials, called her “a ‘sl*t, ‘b*tch,’ and ‘f***ing wh*re’ at least several times a week during [her] entire forth grade year.”  According to the lawsuit, the girl’s mother complained to her daughter’s teacher who in turn relayed the complaint to former Superintendent John Kellmayer who allegedly “did not do anything to prevent the harassment.”

By the time she entered the fifth grade, the alleged harassment by the three students worsened.  They allegedly added the terms “ugly” and “mother f***er” to their list of insults and starting slapping J.R. hard enough to make her fall to the ground.  The suit claims that the girl’s gym teacher would not take her out of class so that she could be away from two of the harassers.

During fifth grade, J.R. said that her three tormentors took her to a secluded area of the playground and slapped her, punched her and kicked her in the groin.  They allegedly lifted her up and dropped her causing “causing significant bruising on her back and her knee.”  Again, Kellmayer allegedly did nothing to stop the abuse and reportedly refused to meet with the girl’s mother to discuss it.

The alleged harassment caused J.R. to take anti-anxiety medication that were, according to the lawsuit, to be administered by school nurse Jill Tourtual “whenever [J.R.] started to feel symptoms of her anxiety.”  Tourtual allegedly refused to give J.R. her anxiety medication because she felt that J.R. “was using the anxiety pills as a ‘crutch” and that her anxiety was not real and she was simply looking for attention.”  Tourtual also reportedly told J.R. that she did not want her to become a “pill popper.”

J.R. said that after being refused her medication, she became so anxious that “she would simply go into the bathroom by herself and cry.”  J.R. claimed that in March 2014, her anxiety became so bad that she told Tourtual that “if she did not receive her medication she was going to harm herself.”  According to the lawsuit, Tourtual continued to refuse J.R. her medication causing her to attempt to harm herself and require admission to a crisis center.

The case is captioned J.R. by her parent and guardian J.R. v. Brooklawn Board of Education, et al, New Jersey Superior Court Docket No. CAM-L-4761-14 and Smith’s attorney was Kevin M. Costello of Mount Laurel.  Case documents are on-line here.

According to a September 20, 2017 court order entered by Superior Court Judge Michael J. Kassel, J.R. and the school district resolved their claims for a a $100,000 settlement.  From that amount $49,745.91 was paid to J.R.’s attorney for costs and attorney fees.  The remainder was deposited with the Camden County Surrogate to be put in trust for her.

None of J.R.’s allegations have been proven or disproven in court. All that is known for sure is that the Brooklawn school district or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the girl $100,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants’ decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial–it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project. Please send all comments to [email protected]