Suit says Catholic school officials failed to protect teen
HAMMOND — The parents of a 13-year-old Hammond Catholic school student say their daughter was hospitalized because of constant bullying by two classmates and the school not only failed to take proper disciplinary action against the bullies but forced their daughter to leave the school.
William and Jeanine Holmes, the girl’s parents, allege in a lawsuit filed Wednesday in state District Court in Tangipahoa Parish that administrators at Holy Ghost Catholic School on North Oak Street failed to discipline two seventh-grade boys who allegedly “severely and traumatically bullied” the girl for months through verbal threats and taunts on social media.
Jeanine Holmes said she also believes the school told her to withdraw her daughter and son from the school after she spoke out on social media about the school’s handling of the case.
The Holmeses say the bullying started about the end of last school year, when their daughter was 12 years old, and has continued through this year. The girl is now 13.
Family members are not sure of the exact dates of the bullying but believe no physical harm was done, said Felix Sternfels, the Holmes family attorney.
Jeanine Holmes and Sternfels, while speaking to reporters outside the clerk of court’s Hammond office, declined to mention specifics, but they said the messages were “very derogatory” and amounted to “verbal torture.”
The Holmeses are suing the school, the Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge, and the alleged bullies’ parents: Troy Romero and Karen Romero, and Thomas Dawsey and Carla Dawsey.
Names of the Holmeses’ daughter and two boys were not given in the suit.
Holy Ghost Principal Tangee Daugereaux and officials with the Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge, which oversees Tangipahoa Parish’s Catholic schools, did not return messages for comment Wednesday.
Thomas Dawsey said when reached by phone Wednesday that he and his wife had not seen the lawsuit and had no comment. The Romeros could not be reached for comment.
Jeanine Holmes said she found out about the bullying after she discovered a letter in her home that appeared to have been written by her daughter.
She said the letter detailed some of the bullying and was signed, “Love, your guardian angel.”
Holmes said she and her husband spoke to her daughter about the letter. The girl started sobbing and admitted she wrote it to herself.
“She did not want to be found out,” Holmes said. “She was humiliated.”
Holmes said she and her husband contacted school administrators repeatedly about the bullying and were initially optimistic that the school would take disciplinary action against the two boys who were bullying the girl.
But administrators did nothing and the case did not move at all, Holmes said.
“Despite knowing that OH (the girl) had been hospitalized, the administration of Holy Ghost School continued to insist on wanting the minor child, OH, to direct them as to what disciplinary action should be taken against the bullies,” the lawsuit says.
The bullying became so intense that the girl’s parents admitted her to a New Orleans hospital Jan. 30 for psychiatric care, her mother said.
She remained hospitalized until Feb. 5 and showed signs of depression and suicidal tendencies.
The Holmes family contacted police while their daughter was still in the hospital, their lawsuit says.
Police have confiscated several electronic communication devices the boys allegedly used to bully the girl, Sternfels said.
Lt. Vincent Giannobile, a Hammond Police Department spokesman, said officers were still investigating the case.
The Holmes decided to home-school their daughter after her hospitalization, their lawsuit says. Their younger son remained enrolled in Holy Ghost.
But school administrators eventually called the parents and asked them to withdraw both children from the school or have them face expulsion, the Holmeses’ lawsuit alleges.
Jeanine Holmes said Wednesday she believes her children were forced to leave the school because she spoke out on social media about the school’s mishandling of the bullying investigation.
“I just feel like children as a whole deserve to be protected by the administration of their school,” she said.
Holmes and Sternfels said they’d like to see a change in administration at the school.
“We’d like a message to be sent, not only here but everywhere, that bullying is not going to be tolerated,” Sternfels said. “And if it is, if it has to go this far, the last resort will be a lawsuit and the courthouse.”
The Holmes family is seeking $50,000 in damages and a jury trial.
Sternfels also blamed the boys’ parents for the continued bullying. He called the lawsuit a “last resort.”
“We’ve waited for the school to properly respond to this situation, and we believe they’ve been derelict in their duty,” he said. “And we haven’t heard anything from the parents.”