What to Know
- Mallory Grossman, 12, took her own life after months of bullying, her family says
- The family is suing the Rockaway Township school district, saying it did nothing to stop the bullying from other girls online
- The school district says claims it failed to address bullying are "categorically false"
A northern New Jersey school district says it didn't ignore the concerns of a family who claim their 12-year-old daughter's suicide was caused by bullying.
The family of Mallory Grossman filed a notice of intent to sue the district last week.
They claim school officials ignored repeated efforts to address the bullying. Grossman took her own life in June.
On Thursday, Rockaway Township school officials released a statement saying allegations they ignored the family and failed to address bullying in general are "categorically false."
Mallory was an accomplished cheerleader and gymnast who family and friends say was well-liked and sociable. But her family’s attorney says she was tortured for months by several girls using texts and Snapchat.
Beginning last October, Mallory would come home and tell her mother about "the dirty looks and the constant harassment and the name-calling and the cold shoulder, the exclusion," to the point that the girl suffered chronic headaches and stomach aches, and her grades plummeted, her mother says.
The family repeatedly asked school officials for help to stop the bullying, Nagel said, but the school district did nothing. The day Mallory died by suicide, her mother had gone to the school to complain — yet again — that her daughter was being relentlessly bullied.
"For months, there were texts, there was Snapchat, there was Instagram. For months she was told she's a loser, she has no friends. And finally, she was even told, 'Why don't you kill yourself?'" said family attorney Bruce Nagel, who said a cellphone could be "a lethal weapon" in the wrong hands.
The messages were "vile and malicious," Nagel said. Two of the last Snapchats sent to the girl were taken on school grounds, without Mallory's permission, her mother said.
Mallory's mother, Dianne Grossman, says she believes schools have a responsibility "to look a little below the surface."
"Dirty looks, snide comments, things like that are important for administrators to pay attention to. It's not enough to say, 'We don't have evidence.' Just because it's not in writing doesn't mean it doesn't hurt," she said. "To a child who's 12, constant dirty looks, it does change the makeup of who you are."
Earlier this month, Nagel announced the family's plan to sue the Rockaway Township school district for gross negligence. The family is also considering suing the parents of "three or four" children for allowing the bullying to go on for months. Mallory's mother said the night before her daughter died, she spoke to the mother of one of the alleged bullies, and the mother dismissed it "and said it was just a big joke and defended her daughter."
It's not clear why Mallory was targeted. Her mother said because Mallory was popular, an athlete, a quiet child and a good student, "she kind of represented what they couldn't be," Dianne said. "She had a target on her back. It really was about the humiliation and the intimidation."
"It's hard to understand that while she had a great circle of friends and she was liked among her peers and active, that still doesn't quiet the noise of the girls that didn't like her and who decided to put a target on her back and constantly taunt her," said Dianne Grossman.
Though New Jersey has some of the strongest Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying (HIB) laws in the nation, the school district never filed a mandatory HIB report, Dianne Grossman alleges.
In a self-assessment last year, Rockaway Township school district gave Copeland Middle School an "A" grade of 94 percent for how it dealt with bullying at the school, including in the areas of curriculum and instruction, investigation procedures, and incident reporting.
A number of families from Morris County told News 4 that cruel comments posted online are a far bigger problem than face-to-face bullying, and that cyberbullying is even an issue with young kids in elementary school.
If you are in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or reach out to the Crisis Text Line by texting ‘Home’ to 741741.