The parents of a Springfield High School senior who committed suicide last year that allege that the school district failed to notify them regarding the relentless bullying their son was facing. Ethan Byrne, 17, was relentlessly bullied after allegedly using a racial slur in a group chat. The parents are now suing the suburban Philadelphia school district, as well as a handful of district personnel, arguing they were at fault for Ethan’s death.
The alleged slur was uttered on June 2, 2020 amid nationwide riots following the death of George Floyd. Byrne allegedly uttered the slur in response to a fellow student who had praised the BLM movement in a group chat. After facing backlash for his comment, the 17-year-old said that he was wrong and profusely apologized. According to the suit, Ethan was still assailed for his remarks both on social media and when in-person learning returned in October, 2020.
The suit alleges that Byrne spoke with Springfield Principal Joseph Hepp regarding the unrelenting bullying on the day he committed suicide. Hepp allegedly told Byrne to “watch out, because people are pissed”, meaning numerous other students, parents and staff were angry with the teenager. Ethan had repeatedly met with Hepp and had notified him about the bullying, according to the suit. Hepp allegedly did nothing else following his final conversation with Ethan and failed to notify his parents.
“On Oct. 19, 2020, seventeen-year-old Ethan shot himself in the head in a desolate wooded area. On that day and four days earlier, Ethan met and spoke extensively with Hepp, the School’s principal, about the unrelenting consistent bullying Ethan was receiving in person at school and through social media,” the suit says. The suit argues that the District was at fault for Ethan’s death. “Had Ethan’s parents known the dangers he faced at Springfield High School, they would have immediately intervened and secured proper help for him. Defendants, with utter reckless wanton disregard for Ethan’s well-being, and with full knowledge of the bullying he underwent, concealed and enabled a dangerous school environment to become even more so with Ethan’s death,” the suit stated.
The defendants filed a motion to dismiss the case with prejudice on Sept. 20, arguing that the plaintiffs’ claims are baseless. The dismissal motion stated that Byrne had limited interaction with Hepp and that bullying in relation to a racial slur was not known at the time of Byrne’s death. “Here, there are simply no facts pled demonstrating an awareness on the part of the District (or Mr. Hepp individually) of a risk to plaintiffs. To the contrary, the allegations set forth in the complaint confirm that there was no indication that Ethan was in danger of committing suicide or that he was ever bullied,” the motion stated. The dismissal motion argues that a review of the complaint confirms that “no one” had an understanding or belief that Ethan was in danger, and an absence of actions shocking the conscience.
The plaintiffs are represented by Joseph R. Podraza Jr. of Lamb McErlane, in Philadelphia. The defendants are represented by Lee C. Durivage of Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, also in Philadelphia.