Principal ‘humiliated’ suicidal student
FOR AN entire school year, a 12-year-old girl endured merciless bullying online and in the hallways by cruel classmates whose taunts included, "When are you going to kill yourself?"
On June 14, 2017, Mallory killed herself in the family's Rockaway home. Her parents on Tuesday filed a wrongful-death civil case against the principal, Rockaway Township, its board of education and several other school officials in Morris County Superior Court.
"The story isn't about Mallory. It's about everybody's Mallory. It's about everybody's niece and their nephew and their grandchildren,'' her mum Dianne Grossman said.
She said principal Alfonso Gonnella, specifically, has "blood on his hands".
On the last day of her daughter's life, Mrs Grossman went with Mallory to talk to Mr Gonnella in a last-ditch attempt to get help for her child, court papers say.
During the three-hour meeting, the principal handed a poker chip to the pre-teen cheerleader and gymnast. He then directed the girl to inscribe her initials on the token and asked her: "Are you all in?"
Mallory was "humiliated,'' the papers say.
Mr Gonnella "lacked any suggestions to punish the offenders, but instead, placed the bulk of the responsibility on Mallory to rectify the situation,'' the papers say. "His bright solution to nine months of bullying is a poker chip? And to have her write her initials and date it and to ask her if she's all in? And hours later she goes home and dies?" Ms Grossman said.
Mallory's father, Seth Grossman, was the one who "discovered his daughter Mallory minutes after she attempted suicide and was present during her last moments of life," the shattered parents' say.
Mrs Grossman said that meeting followed a full school year of cruel texts and Snapchat messages from other students.
One girl coldly asked, "When are you going to kill yourself?'' in front of other classmates - just weeks before the suicide.
Another bully, identified in court papers by the initials A.B., took a surreptitious photo of Mallory by herself, then texted it to her with the caption "You have no friends," the papers say.
In another instance, an unidentified student sent a similar photo to classmates via Snapchat with the caption "U have no friends" and "Poor Mal", court papers state.
Her mum pleaded with school officials to intervene "numerous" times during the 2016-17 school year, but the educators' tone-deaf responses only made things worse, court papers say.
When the parents once complained about bullying in the lunch room, the school suggested their daughter eat in a guidance counsellor's office - "further isolating Mallory from the student body," the papers say.
Another time, administrators had Mallory and her tormentors "hug each other" rather than actually discipline anyone.
School officials advised the family not to file a formal complaint under New Jersey's Harassment Intimidation and Anti-Bullying policy, the papers say.
The family's lawyer, Bruce Nagel, added, "We are hopeful that the filing of this lawsuit will bring national awareness to the epidemic of cyber-bullying and that we do not have to attend any more funerals of students who have been the victims.''
Dianne Grossman said her death is "a perpetual sadness you have to learn to live with''.
The Rockaway Township Board of Education did not return a request for comment. Mr Gonnella did not return calls or emails from The Post.
If you or someone you know is in need of crisis or suicide prevention support, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit www.lifeline.org.au/gethelp