A 16-year-old girl has sued a small, private girls’ school in Seattle, where she said administrators failed to protect her from two years of assaults, Facebook taunts and near-daily name-calling.
The girl, who wanted to be identified by her first name Olivia, said she was initially excited to enroll at the Seattle Girls’ School in 2006, a Central District middle school known for its intimate setting and math and science curriculums.
But soon after she started sixth grade, another girl slapped her at a dance for no apparent reason, the girl said. She told her teacher, but nothing reportedly happened.
Instead, the bullying escalated to frequent name-calling, profane insults on Facebook and ostracism. She said other girls called her “ugly” and “fat pig.” They arranged “secret meetings” in the bathroom to talk about her, while she overheard them in a stall and cried.
“Eacy day was like a war zone,” said the girl’s complaint, filed Thursday in King County Superior Court. “She was subjected to things being thrown at her head and face.”
She began to dread going to her locker, where another girl with the locker above hers regularly abused her.
‘I felt like I was suffocating’
“She would stand above me and shove my head down,” said the girl, a slight, soft-spoken teen with braces. “I felt like I was suffocating.”
But when she reported the incidents to her teachers and an advisor, she said little happened. She said they assured her that they would deal with the bullies – a group of about 10 girls – but the taunts never really stopped. She said none of the girls were suspended or expelled.
Instead, the advisor reportedly told the girl to talk to her bullies and said every grade seemed to single out a victim for bullying each year.
“Sadly, that was me,” the girl said. “She said I was going to have to man up and deal with it. It was sort of like an unavoidable thing I was going to be bullied.”
On Thursday, the 120-student school – which launched in 2000 with a Bill Melinda Gates Foundation grant – responded with a statement about its anti-bullying efforts.
But it made no mention of the complaint or the girl, now in high school.
“We take the issue of bullying, relational aggression and cyber bullying very seriously,” the statement said.
“The commitment to our students who are entrusted to us is to equip them with the necessary tools and self confidence to combat issues of bullying.”
The girl said the school’s response included a circle group for her and her abusers, in which each girl was supposed to say if they had ever gossiped about anyone.
“They had these vague, kumbaya meetings with the girls,” said the girl’s attorney, Yvonne Kinoshita Ward. “That kumbaya stuff isn’t going to work when it’s vicious bullying and assault. You need swift, clear, consistent actions.”
The abuse culminated in eighth grade in 2009, in which the girl said the locker bully kicked her hard in the back and whispered, “That hurt, didn’t it.” The victim’s mother then pulled her daughter out of school.
The mother surmised that the school – which she said charged about $15,000 in tuition when her daughter was there – tolerated the mean girls, because it didn’t want to jeopardize funding from their parents.
“They’re dependent on the tuition and their reputation in the community, so rich donors (are) giving them money,” said the mother, who didn’t want her name used, in order to protect her daughter’s identity.
“Most, if not all, the girls involved – the parents were wealthy parents.”
She said the pain still lingered. Her daughter, once friendly and active in ballet, is now withdrawn and distrustful. She’s been diagnosed with depression, anxiety and anoxeria. Her back still hurts.
“I used to be lot more outgoing,” she said. “I’m not that person any more.”