Saturday, November 18, 2017
News Roundup

Family says continued bullying of their daughter led to them suing St. Petersburg school

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ST. PETERSBURG — When a student falls victim to a bully, the problem usually can be handled at school. But one family says they were forced to go to court after a girl kept bullying their daughter and school officials could not keep her safe.

Tracy and Jared Samon say the girl their daughter identified as the bully has gone unpunished for repeated assaults and taunting, and they are suing Lutheran Church of the Cross Day School as well as the girl's parents, Russell and Blythe Holecek.

They say they had no choice after attending more than a dozen fruitless meetings with administrators at the St. Petersburg school. The school disputes the allegations.

The complaint was filed March 9 in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court.

Tracy Samon said the bullying began last school year when the two girls were in fifth grade, their sixth year of attending the school. She said her daughter's classmate would call her stupid and would taunt her if she didn't finish tests on time. Her daughter, Samon said, is dyslexic.

Samon said the girls' desks were separated at school. Before summer break, Samon said she asked the school to arrange their schedules so they would be in separate classes.

But when the girls returned to school for sixth grade, Samon realized they had chapel band and physical education together, and their lockers were close by. Soon after, Samon said, her daughter came home in tears with a dislocated pinky finger. Her daughter said the girl slammed her finger in the locker.

Samon said school officials told her no one witnessed the incident and surveillance video was not available.

Head of School Holly Carlson said in a statement there was no wrongdoing. "The school worked diligently with the families and took proactive steps to promote a positive learning environment," the statement said. "While a lawsuit is regrettable we have great confidence in our legal system and look forward to presenting the facts."

Around November, the Samons said the girl pushed and slapped the hands of their daughter and two other girls during P.E. The lawsuit alleges the girl also hit, kicked and pinched other students.

The next month, the Samons said the girl punched their daughter in the back while walking to chapel band, claiming to play the game "punch buggy."

"They said they were working on a solution to the problem with the family," Jared Samon said, referring to school officials. "They wouldn't share with us anything they were doing or provide us with any sort of time frame."

The Samons said they wrote emails to the school's board but only one board member responded. According to the school's website, Russell Holecek, the father of the girl the Samons say is bullying their daughter, is the board's vice chair.

Holecek said Thursday he was aware of the lawsuit but wanted to speak to his attorney before commenting.

In February, Tracy Samon said she picked up her daughter from school and noticed scratches on her arm. Her daughter said the girl had ripped a jacket out of her hand and pinched her, which formed bruises. Samon said she called police.

She said that her daughter, who had below-average grades before being she was diagnosed, had been flourishing at the school academically, but her grades have suffered since the physical incidents.

After the last incident, Tracy Samon said the school moved her daughter's locker into the office and took her out of chapel band, her favorite class. Samon said the school's decision victimized her daughter.

"I thought I was at this nice little Christian school where you think everyone's going to be nice to you," Tracy Samon said. "But I swear I'm at a cult or a dictatorship."

Samon said she tried to move her daughter out of the school and into another private school, but it was too late in the school year. Her daughter is now seeing a therapist. She plans to transfer both of her children out at the end of the school year.

The family had no choice but to sue, she said. "The school isn't going to do anything. They won't give my daughter any justice."

Contact Colleen Wright at cwright@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8643. Follow @Colleen_Wright.

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