DALLAS – A federal judge has tossed out a lawsuit filed against Lewisville ISD by the parents of Montana Lance, a 9-year-old who killed himself at school in 2010.
On January 21, 2010, Lance hung himself with his belt in the restroom of the school nurse’s office at Stewarts Creek Elementary.
Montana’s parents, Debbie and Jason Lance, sued the district a year later, alleging administrators were aware that their son was bullied from kindergarten through fourth grade and did not do enough to prevent his suicide.
Lance was diagnosed with ADHD, emotional disturbance and speech impairment, all of which qualified him to be enrolled in special education classes, as allowed through the Individuals with Disabilities Act.
The ruling, which was issued Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, said the plaintiffs failed to prove Lance was discriminated against by anyone on the district's payroll.
In the original lawsuit, Lance’s parents said that despite their son's diagnoses, Stewarts Creek personnel labeled the nine year old as a “bad child” and a “tattletale” when he reported that he was being bullied. They said administrators often sided against Lance, including a Dec. 29 incident when he pulled a penknife out of his pocket in response to students who threatened to “beat him up.”
Hours before Lance killed himself, he was shoved and called a name by another student while waiting in the lunch line. The suit says the incident began because Lance cut in line. Later in the day, he was sent to the principal’s office for talking out of turn.
District employees would not allow Lance to use the standard school restroom after he was sent to the principal's office. Instead, he had to use the restroom in the nurse's office, which is where he killed himself.
The Lance family argued that keeping Montana apart from other students made the district liable for his death under the "special relationship" theory, which is invoked when the state incarcerates a prisoner, commits someone to an institution or places a child in foster care.
The ruling found "this situation does not fall into one of these categories."
Quoting from the judgment:
"School officials did not lock Montana in the restroom; Montana did," Clark writes.
Also in the suit, the Lance family attempted to show widespread bullying throughout the district that was not being appropriately handled. If this was the case, the court ruled, then Lance was treated like every other bullied student in the district.
And so, in dismissing the lawsuit, District Judge Ron Clark ruled that, while tragic, there is no proof Lance was discriminated against because he had a disability.
Quoting from the ruling:
“While Stewart’s Creek officials may have labeled Montana a troublemaker and believed the bullying students’ story instead of Montana’s when incidents of bullying were reported, there is, again, no indication that they did so in any way based on his disability,” Clark writes.
Karen Permetti, Lewisville ISD spokeswoman, said the case was about a single student and not the district as a whole.
"This was not about all 52,000 students in our district, it was about one," she said. "No evidence was requested or required or delivered about any other student except Montana."
Debbie Lance, Montana's mother and a longtime anti-bullying crusader, died from an aneurism two days before the ruling.
Clarification: This version of the story clarifies that the Lance family alleged widespread bullying in their suit, not the court.