Parents sue school district after teen's suicide

Thu Apr 14, 2011 5:05pm EDT
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla (Reuters Life!) - The parents of a 13-year-old American girl who hanged herself in 2009 after being ridiculed by classmates for texting a suggestive photo of herself to a boy have sued the school district.

Hope Witsell's parents said Hillsborough County school officials failed to take appropriate action after learning the teen had suicidal thoughts, according to a lawsuit filed this week in federal court in Tampa, Florida.

The eighth grader killed herself in her bedroom on September 12, 2009. At the time, she was enduring harassment from other students over a sexting incident that occurred at the end of the prior school year.

Her mother later discovered a copy of a "no-harm contract" in which her daughter agreed not to attempt suicide and to call a school social worker if she was considering ending her life, the lawsuit said.

It was signed the day before Witsell died.

Donna and Charles Witsell said the social worker did not tell them that she met with their daughter or share concerns about shallow cuts seen on the teen's thigh.

They claim that the social worker also failed to involve the school psychologist, principal, school resource officer or Hope Witsell's assigned scholastic counselor.

The social worker "squandered the trust, confidence and critical knowledge bestowed exclusively upon her" by Hope Witsell, the lawsuit said.

The parents accuse the school district of negligence and violating the teen's and their own constitutional rights.

The school district does not comment on pending litigation, spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said Thursday.

(Reporting by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Jerry Norton)