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Mom Sues CPS After Daughter's Suicide, Says School 'Ignored' Bullying

By Benjamin Woodard | October 9, 2014 10:50am | Updated on October 9, 2014 12:39pm
 McKenzie Phlipot, 12, committed suicide in May and now her family is concerned a culture of bullying at Peirce Elementary School might have led to her death.
McKenzie Phlipot, 12, committed suicide in May and now her family is concerned a culture of bullying at Peirce Elementary School might have led to her death.
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DNAinfo/Benjamin Woodard (inset: family photo)

ANDERSONVILLE — The mother of McKenzie Phlipot, 12, who hanged herself in May, filed a lawsuit Thursday against Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Board of Education, alleging school officials failed to protect her daughter from bullying.

The suit alleges that CPS did not address claims of bullying of McKenzie at Peirce Elementary School or report instances of bullying to police and her family.

"The continued bullying that McKenzie suffered at school should have never been allowed," McKenzie's mother, Beth Martin, said in a statement provided through her attorneys. "McKenzie and I were relying on the administration to help us, but they ignored and dismissed the severity of the problem. They did not have McKenzie's back, she felt like she had nowhere to turn.

"I want McKenzie to have a voice, the one that went unheard while she was alive. I live with the pain of McKenzie's loss every day and want to help make sure no other child will have to endure the physical and emotional torment she experienced at school."

Last month, CPS said an internal investigation of the alleged incidents found "no credible evidence" that McKenzie had been bullied at school.

CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey declined to comment Thursday on the lawsuit, citing "pending litigation."

Robert Bingle, the managing partner of Carboy & Demetrio, the Chicago law firm that filed the suit, said Martin had contacted the school several times to report bullying of her daughter.

"The school was aware of this bullying and did not follow the steps mandated by CPS code to stop this behavior," Bingle said in a statement.

Bingle said in a phone interview Thursday that he and his client would specify the amount of damages they are seeking after additional evidence was obtained from CPS.

"There was some social media that we have," said Bingle when asked about what evidence proves Phlipot was bullied at school. "But also we have the direct testimony of the mother who went to the school and reported" bullying of her daughter.

About a month after McKenzie hanged herself on the evening of May 8, a school day, her parents passed out fliers to parents telling their daughter's story.

The flier stated that she was "picked on" and "bullied."

"She was shoved, punched and even required emergency room visits after being injured at school," the flier continued. "One of her teachers repeatedly singled her out and treated her differently than other students. Her family's cries for help were ignored. Nothing was done."

Before she took her life, McKenzie Phlipot posted several things on social media about being bullied at school, but did not detail all the incidents referenced in the flier from her parents.

In one post to her Instagram account in December, she wrote, "Like if u hate bullies." A few months later, she wrote, "Look! All the bullies at my school need to stop talking." On the photo, one commenter seemed to defend the practice, saying, "Every body bullies u."

Then, on May 4, four days before McKenzie's death, she made a final post to her Instagram account.

"If I died, would you cry?" read the text. "Would you wonder if I was happy? Would I be on your mind? Would you ever speak my name again? Would you come to my funeral? Would you miss me? Would you think of me? Would you remember all our inside jokes, the memories we created, even if they weren't that serious?

"Would your heart drop to your stomach when you found out that it was suicide?"

The lawsuit presents excerpts from CPS' Anti-Bullying Policy, which instructs all CPS employees and contractors to intervene if bullying is observed at school and then report the incident. The suit claims CPS failed to properly train its employees and failed to report the bullying of McKenzie to police.

The suit alleges that "sustained physical and emotional injuries" from bullying led to her death.

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