BLUE SPRINGS, Mo. - Despite regular headlines about children committing suicide over bullying, attorneys for the family of 12-year-old Brandon Myers say very few cases of bullying against school districts actually make it very far in the legal process.
Brandon hanged himself in his family's Blue Springs, Mo., home in 2007. His parents say he was driven to suicide because of the constant tormenting he faced in school.
They settled with the Blue Springs School District in federal court on Wednesday. As part of the settlement, the district is required to retrain two administrators and hold a bullying awareness day in every school building in the district each year.
The Myers family said the whole point of their lawsuit was to affect change. Their attorneys say Brandon's case sets an important legal precedent, showing school districts across the country that parents can pursue legal action against educators who ignore or enable bullying.
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Born with a cleft palate, Brandon faced constant bullying from his classmates. When he told his parents, they responded as most parents would: By telling him to be the bigger person
"Ignore it. You're better than that," his mom Kim Scarlett recalled telling Brandon.
The bullying was more than just teasing. Court records show on one occasion at recess, several students threatened to "fill up the hole" in Brandon's face before shoving him to the ground. They then reportedly pushed grass and dirt in his nose and mouth.
Brandon's parents encouraged their son to tell a teacher about the bullying. When he did, court records show he was told to stop being a "tattletale."
"When I tell him to do it the way he is supposed to do it, and then he does it that way and he is rebuked for it? How do I get him to believe he has any power or authority or any control over the situation," asked Randy Myers, Brandon's father.
Attorneys say their case was strengthened after they discovered the district hid key evidence.
"What we know is on the day Brandon died, two people from the school district came to the school that night and emptied everything out of his desk. Among those items was his writing journal with everything he was feeling that day. His feelings, his emotions, what we he was thinking about. What was going on. It may have provided great insight on what was going on at school," said Danny Thomas, attorney for the Myers family.
The financial part of the settlement is confidential. Brandon's family and their attorney hope this settlement sends a message to school districts that they need to be proactive in identifying and stopping bullying.
"These are very difficult lawsuits to take all the way to the courthouse steps. And that's what makes it landmark. That's what makes it unique is we took them all the way to the end. And when we were ready to walk through those doors and say 'Ladies and gentlemen of the jury,' we got something done," Thomas explained.
Brandon's family also hope their story sends a message to parents to be better role models for their own children.
"This is kind of a check for a lot of parents out there: Your children see you and they learn how to act towards other people through you," Randy Myers said.
An attorney for the Blue Springs school district told 41 Action News by email that they would not be providing any comment about the settlement.