Concord-Carlisle faces $2m bullying lawsuit
A former Concord-Carlisle High School student who says she was mercilessly bullied for a year and a half while administrators ignored her pleas for help filed a $2 million federal civil rights lawsuit Monday against the towns of Concord and Carlisle, the Concord-Carlisle school district, and three school officials.
Isabella “Belle” Hankey, now 18, alleges in the suit that the abuse — which she says included death threats, crude slurs carved into her car, and feces smeared on her car — caused her to suffer a pulmonary embolism and finish out her senior year in an alternative school program.
Each instance was reported to school administrators, according to the suit, and other students came forward with tips about who the perpetrators were, but the school allegedly took no action and destroyed records of the bullying.
“This was not a single isolated incident,” said Hankey’s attorney, Timothy M. Burke of Needham. “This went on for years, literally, two years. And it was relatively easily remedied, and there really is no excuse.”
In addition to the towns and school district, the suit names in their official and individual capacities Superintendent Diana Rigby, high school principal Peter Badalament, and former assistant principal Alan Weinstein. Badalament declined to comment; Rigby and Weinstein could not be reached for comment.
Concord’s town manager could not immediately be reached, and the town administrator of Carlisle declined to comment.
Hankey’s suit, Burke said, is one of the first to be brought under the Massachusetts Anti-Bullying Law, which went into effect in May 2010 after several high-profile bullying-related suicides in the state. The law aims to strengthen protections against bullying.
The suit says the bullying began in October 2011, when someone keyed Hankey’s car while it sat in the high school parking lot.
She reported the vandalism to school officials including Weinstein, but the district did not investigate, according to the suit.
In February 2012, Hankey found her car smeared with “a large amount of feces” across the exterior, according to the suit, and informed Weinstein. She again alleges that no action was taken.
The next day, according to the suit, one of Hankey’s teachers, concerned the girl was not safe, wrote to Hankey’s guidance counselor expressing worries over how the district was handling the bullying. The e-mail made its way to Weinstein, who replied that he was “totally on top of it,” according to the suit.
Less than a month later, a vulgar sexual slur was allegedly carved into Hankey’s car, again while it sat in the parking lot.
When Hankey told Weinstein, he allegedly told her, “I don’t know what you want me to do,” the lawsuit claims.
Hankey’s parents got involved and asked that cameras be installed in the parking lot; Weinstein allegedly said cameras would be too expensive, and again said there was nothing he could do.
Shortly thereafter, Weinstein allegedly brought a blowtorch to school and offered to “cover up” the vandalism on Hankey’s car. Hankey declined, and police photographed the vandalism.
Hankey’s mother called Rigby, who suggested the family deal with Badalament, the high school principal, instead of Weinstein, according to the suit.
Hankey’s parents hired a private investigator and later outfitted their daughter’s car with cameras, but the vandalism continued, and in June 2012 two apparent death threats, reading “Kill Belle” and “Belle’s dead at 9:15,” and one partial message about Hankey, were discovered scrawled on walls throughout the school.
Badalament sent a letter to parents and students and set up an anonymous e-mail site where people could send information about who the perpetrators were, according to the suit, and the district received tips about a specific student, as well as a group of sophomores who called themselves the “Sexy Seven,” who may have been responsible. The suit alleges that Badalament said he would question the student, but did not.
Burke said he did not know the motive for the bullying.
Because she was scared to return to school, Hankey enrolled in a program called “Rivers and Revolutions” where classes were held in a separate building from the main high school for her senior year.
Security cameras were eventually installed in the parking lot in September 2012, which, according to the suit, was later than the family was promised. The same month, Hankey saw several messages on the school walls apparently directed at her, one of which was simply her name in a circle with a line struck through it.
Frustrated at the pace of the investigation, Hankey’s parents requested the school’s investigation records and were ultimately told that Weinstein, who had resigned in June 2012, had destroyed all of his records.
In October 2012, Hankey was hospitalized with a blood clot that the suit alleges was “directly related” to the stress of the bullying. Days later, she was hospitalized again with a pulmonary embolism.
Burke said the bullying continued through the end of Hankey’s senior year.
The suit alleges federal civil rights violations; sexual harassment and discrimination; violation of Hankey’s 14th Amendment, or due process, rights; intentional infliction of emotional distress; negligent infliction of emotional distress; violation of the state Civil Rights Act; and violation of the state Declaration of Rights.
Despite the trauma of her junior and senior years in high school, Burke said Hankey is doing well and plans to attend the University of Mississippi in the fall.
“Part of the motivation here is to help prevent other kids from going through what Belle did,” Burke said. “I think she’s a very brave young woman to do what she’s doing, to stand up against this type of bullying.”