School District Agrees to Pay $3 Million After a Bullied Boy, 8, Killed Himself

Cincinnati Public Schools reached the settlement on Friday, more than four years after Gabriel Taye died by suicide.,

Gabriel Taye when he was in second grade.
Gabriel Taye when he was in second grade.Credit…Cornelia Reynolds, via Associated Press

School District Agrees to Pay $3 Million After a Bullied Boy, 8, Killed Himself

Cincinnati Public Schools reached the settlement on Friday, more than four years after Gabriel Taye died by suicide.

Gabriel Taye when he was in second grade.Credit…Cornelia Reynolds, via Associated Press

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For at least a year, Gabriel Taye, 8, was severely bullied at his elementary school in Cincinnati.

The third grader, who dreamed of joining the military and liked to dress up in neck ties, was punched, beaten and mocked repeatedly by students at Carson Elementary School, according to a federal lawsuit.

On Jan. 24, 2017, a student yanked him to the floor in a restroom, knocking him unconscious, the lawsuit said.

Video footage shows Gabriel on the floor, unconscious, for at least seven minutes as other children walked by, some kicking him, others pointing fingers. His mother, unaware of what had happened, sent him back to school two days later.

Gabriel was bullied again. When he went home that afternoon, he took one of his neckties and hanged himself from his bunk bed.

More than four years after his death by suicide, the Cincinnati Public Schools has agreed to pay his family $3 million and to create a more robust anti-bullying system that would be monitored twice a year by lawyers for Gabriel’s parents.

A memorial for Gabriel will be placed at Carson under the agreement, which was announced on Friday.

The school board is expected to vote on the settlement on Monday.

“We will make sure these reforms take root and end bullying throughout” the school system, Al Gerhardstein, one of the lawyers for Gabriel’s family, said.

Aaron M. Herzig, a lawyer for the district, said the administration “strongly believes” that the district and school employees were not responsible for his “tragic death.”

“Resolution of this difficult matter is in the best interest of all parties,” he said.

He said the district “does embrace the elimination of bullying within schools, as well as continuing to refine and improve reporting, management and training processes related to incidents of bullying.”

Gabriel, who tried to avoid fighting and talked eagerly about learning, was not known as a “cool kid,” according to a teacher, the complaint said.

At first, he excelled academically at Carson, which starts at pre-K and goes to the sixth grade.

In the first and second grade, Gabriel came home from school with injuries, including two loose teeth. School officials told the boy’s mother, Cornelia Reynolds, that he had an accident on the playground.

But in the third grade, Gabriel’s grades began to drop and the injuries got worse. Ms. Reynolds, a nurse, began to suspect that her son was being bullied.

He would come home with a scraped knee, a bruised elbow or wrist, or a twisted ankle. School officials rarely told Ms. Reynolds or Gabriel’s father, Benyam Taye, about any physical confrontations.

Join Michael Barbaro and “The Daily” team as they celebrate the students and teachers finishing a year like no other with a special live event. Catch up with students from Odessa High School, which was the subject of a Times audio documentary series. We will even get loud with a performance by the drum line of Odessa’s award-winning marching band, and a special celebrity commencement speech.

On Jan. 17, 2017, the school nurse called Ms. Reynolds and told her that Gabriel had been punched in the face by two students. During a meeting with the other children’s parents, the school’s assistant principal told Ms. Reynolds that the boys were engaging in only “horseplay” and that the injuries were the result of an accident.

The school has 31 cameras around the building but officials refused to show Ms. Reynolds footage of what happened, according to the lawsuit.

A week later, Gabriel went into the restroom. Video footage shows him approaching a boy, who appears to extend his hand. Gabriel is seen reaching out to shake it, but the boy roughly pulls him forward, yanking him to the floor and knocking him out.

The school nurse did not call 911, according to the lawsuit. Instead, she waited an hour to call Ms. Reynolds and said that Gabriel had fainted.

When Gabriel’s mother later asked him what happened at school, he told her that he only remembered falling and hurting his stomach, according to the complaint.

Ms. Reynolds kept him home from school the next day. When he returned on Jan. 26, two students accosted him in a restroom, took his water bottle and tried to flush it down the toilet, the lawsuit said.

His mother found him in his bedroom later that afternoon.

“She has flashbacks of images of Gabe hanging that she is unable to ignore,” the lawsuit said. “It is hard for her to be around other children and hear their giggles and watch them play.”

Gabriel never complained about being bullied, according to the family’s lawyers. In an interview with WLWT in 2018, Mr. Taye said his son never stopped acting cheerful.

“I think that’s why we missed all the signs that he was bullied,” Mr. Taye said.

Still, Ms. Reynolds knew her son was unhappy at Carson and had started researching other schools. The day after he died, Ms. Reynolds found an information packet from one of those schools in the mail.

Gabriel’s parents learned about the attack in the restroom months after it happened and as they began investigating their son’s death, according to the complaint.

The district reported only four cases of bullying at the school that year, the complaint said. But incident logs obtained by lawyers for Gabriel’s family told a different story: They described dozens of incidents of students, and even one teacher, being harassed, threatened with violence, or punched and kicked by other students.

Several parents had pulled their children out of the school because the bullying was so relentless, according to the lawsuit.

Under the agreement between the district and Gabriel’s parents, school nurses would be better equipped to report cases of bullying and district employees would be trained to follow the reforms.

The district has agreed to track students who are engaged in repeated acts of bullying, students who are bullied and the locations where acts of bullying happen.

Michele Young, another lawyer for the parents, said her clients’ hope was that the changes would help the district “become a model of how we create safety for all children.”

Gabriel’s parents, she said, “have been waiting for the moment that they would see the possibility that Gabe did not die in vain.”

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