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New Jersey School District Settles Student Bullying Death Lawsuit for $9.1 Million

Mallory Grossman was 12 years old when she died by suicide. Just hours before her death, Copeland Middle School officials said Grossman was "not safe" at school due to ongoing bullying and sent her home.

For months, Grossman’s parents told school officials about the campaign of bullying that their daughter faced—including taunting, calling her “abusive names,” sending insulting messages on social media and via text, refusing to let her sit at students’ lunch tables, and kicking her chair during class. One of the students bullying Grossman allegedly asked her when she was going to kill herself.

After Grossman’s death, her parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Rockaway Township School District and its administrators for failing to offer solutions or heed their pleas about the bullying. More than six years later, Mallory’s parents reached a $9.1 million settlement with the school district, The Washington Post reported.

The family’s attorney said in a statement to the Post that this is the largest bullying settlement ever reached in the United States, and it “speaks volumes with regard to the admission and the responsibility of the schools.”

The lawsuit alleged that Grossman’s mother was told not to file a formal complaint about the bullying with the school district under New Jersey’s anti-bullying statute and that at one point, school officials made Grossman and the students bullying her hug each other.

Grossman’s parents pursued multiple avenues after their daughter’s death to address bullying in schools, including founding an anti-bullying nonprofit—Mallory’s Army Foundation—and supporting 2022 changes to anti-bullying policies in New Jersey. Mallory’s Law now requires school districts to revise anti-bullying policies by specifying consequences for students and mandating that schools report bullying to school boards, the Post explained.

About 22 percent of students ages 12-18 reported being bullied at school in 2019 (the most recent year that data is available for), according to the U.S. National Center for Education Statistics. The rates were higher for younger students (27-28 percent for middle school students compared to 16-19 percent for high schoolers). Girls reported being bullied more than boys (25.5 percent compared to 19.1 percent).

“From the minute that Mallory passed away, we hit the ground running and we started a nonprofit. I travel to schools I tell Mallory’s story,” Mallory’s mother, Dianne Grossman said to CNN. “If the schools don’t get it, then maybe the parents and the kids will.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, substance abuse, or mental health matters, please call or text the U.S. National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 to connect with a trained counselor or visit the Lifeline’s website.