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Judge Dismisses Suicide Bullying Lawsuit Against Mentor Schools

Dragan and Celija Vidovic sued Mentor Schools after their 16-year-old daughter, Sladjana, killed herself in 2008

Today, the U.S. District Court Judge Donald C. Nugent dismissed the lawsuit that Dragan and Celija Vidovic had filed against Mentor Public Schools in 2010.

Their 16-year-old daughter Sladjana had attended Mentor High School before she killed herself in 2008.

In their lawsuit, the Vidovics claimed the school knew their daughter was being bullied but they did not do enought to prevent it.

The suit also claimed that, as a result of the constant bullying and harassment, Sladjana had to leave the school and eventually became so depressed that she committed suicide.

In addition to the school district as a whole, then Superintendent Jacqueline Hoynes, former MHS Principal Joseph Spiccia and guidance counselor Pamela Goss, as well as 10 unnamed district employees were listed as codefendants.

Specifically, the suit accused the district of:

  • violating Sladjana's constitutional right to due process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.
  • maintaining policies and procedures that facilitated constitutional violations and failed to train its employees to prevent bullying

The suit also claimed that Sladjana, who was born in Bosnia, was discriminated against because of her gender and nationality.

The judge said he did not see any evidence to confirm that Sladjana's constitutional rights were violated on basis of gender or ethnic discrimination or that she was denied due process.

"The only incidents of alleged gender-based discrimination are when Ms. Vidovic was allegedly called “slut,” “whore” or “lesbian" ... Nugent wrote in his decision. "Although such comments are clearly inappropriate, and obviously could be extremely distressing to any teen-age girl, these are exactly the type of comments and name-calling that the United States Supreme Court has indicated do not rise to the level of severe and pervasive harassment."

Ultimately, Nugent dismissed the entirety of the Vidovics' suit.

"The plaintiffs have made allegations that other Mentor students have committed suicide 'at least partially”'due to bullying, but they have not shown that these cases involved any constitutional violations by the school," Nugent wrote.

"Further there is no identification of any action the Board could have taken that could have ensured that Ms. Vidovic would not be bullied or that could have prevented her from ultimately deciding to commit suicide. As such, there is no indication that the school’s alleged inaction was the “moving force” behind or constituted a direct causal link to the constitutional deprivations alleged in this case."

According to court documents, Sladjana's life had been a difficult one from the first.

She was born in Bosnia during a time of war. She and her family were displaced from their home and several family members were killed or injured during the war.

At the end of the war, the family discovered their house had been damaged; and, although they were able to renovate, they decided to move to the United States for better opportunities. In 2001, when Sladjana was about eight or nine years old, she moved with her family to Willoughby.

According to court documents, Sladjana said she was made fun of for being different than the other Croatian people in Willoughby and she told her parents she wanted to move.

After two years, the family did move to Mentor.

Sladjana continued to have trouble in Mentor Schools -- both at Ridge Junior High and Mentor High School.

She was sometimes accused of misbehaving and was once suspended for pulling hair. She was also disciplined for repeated tardiness, skipping classes, leaving class without permission and not appearing for assigned detentions.

She often met with Goss and, on at least one occasion, mentioned a friend of hers who had insulted her. Goss brought both girls into the room and mediated their dispute.

According to depositions, students would tease Sladjana. On some occasions, the people who insulted Sladjana were friends or former friends.

On one occasion, a student was accused of intentionally pushing Sladjana down the stairs. The school investigated the incident and determined that it was an accident. The boy who was accused of pushing Sladjana later reconciled with her and was invited to her 16th birthday party.

Sladjana began visiting a psychiatrist while a student at Mentor High School. She was later hospitalized, diagnosed with depression and prescribed her medication for it.

Sladjana's hospital records said that she had been suffering from depression since the age of nine years old.

When she was released from the hospital, the Vidovics met with Mentor Schools' official to establish a safe place for Sladjana to go if she was upset at school because her family was worried she would try to kill herself at school.

Several adults were identified -- including her counselor, her tutor and the school social worker -- as people Sladjana could go to if she was feeling upset. When she returned to school she met with Goss and the school social worker and continued to meet with them throughout the year.

On the last day of the school year, Sladjana was suspended for a dispute that arose during a water bottle fight.

Afterward, an intake officer from Lake County Department of Jobs and Family Services discussed the possiblity of Sladjana being home schooled.

When problems with other students persisted at the beginning of the 2008-2009 school year, the Vidovics opted to pull Sladjana out Mentor High and have her home schooled.

On October 1, 2008, Sladjana helped her brother and some other friends to skip school and stay with her for the day. When one of the boys disappeared later in the day, police came to Sladjana's house to question if she had any contact with him.

Sladjana and her brother had told her parents and the school that her brother had been sick. However, after the police came to the house, the truth was
uncovered and Sladjana was grounded.

She killed herself the next day, leaving behind a note that was written in both English and Croatian.

In her note she said she had troubles "every single day of my life" in the United States. She also told her parents, brother and sister that she loved them.

She also wrote:

I hate the way people treated me at school & I'm not pretty but it was true they did treat me liek (sic) (expletive.) I was rly nice 2 every1 I always said hey 2 every1 but no I was wiered (sic) 2 them :(

I'm soooo sry if I brought a lot of problems 2u I love you guys all. However you have enough money that I have saved to pay for my funeral.

I know that I did not show you that I love and respect you but since I am not a good child I then figured out that this has to happen... I should not have stayed alive for so long.

She ended her letter by writing, "I cannot believe I am doing this to myself because I could not wait to grow up and become something but I know I will never become a better child :{"

In 2011, Nugent dismissed a similar lawsuit against Mentor Schools by the parents of Eric Mohat, another Mentor High student who had killed himself.

The Vidovics have the right to refile claims alleging negligence and/or gross negligence, spoliation of evidence and malice, bad faith and wanton and reckless conduct by Mentor Schools in state court.

The Vidovics’ attorney, Kenneth D. Myers, told The News-Herald that they intended to refile their suit in state court and appeal Nugent's decision.

When contacted for a statement, Mentor Schools said, "Our district remains committed to the importance of anti-bullying and mental health education initiatives for students and staff. Our deepest sympathy is with the Vidovic family grieving the loss of Sladjana."

Emma February 01, 2013 at 04:59 PM
God bless this family! I will pay closer attention to my children. Parents must take an active role in their kids lives. What a lesson?!
Michael Bojana Talevic February 02, 2013 at 04:38 AM
The Article also did leave out details the girl may have had PTSD since they were from a war zone in Bosnian and Not All though most Balkans people live by Turkish rules where the girl is nothing and son is everything. Parents should have pulled her out of school or changed the school and at the same time retained a Attorney to push to have something done as I am doing with 2 Croatian families who threatend to rape, hurt and kill my Child, wife and myself.
Colleen Noel Bird May 23, 2013 at 03:52 PM
Was just in juvinal court yesterday because my mhs student, after months of being bullied by a group of girls, and taking all the proper antibullying policy steps and still nothing being handled. . . Finally snapped and punched the girl in the eye. My child was suspended for 5 days and then suied by the bullys family for restotution and they won... still to this day nothing has been done to the bullys for violating the mhs bullying policy. My daughter must give up her entire summer to work off reatotuion fines and could go to dh if she messes up, is on probation and must comply with all her court orders. This is exactly why mentor needs to be charged for ignoring their own policy and for the children that r really the victoms. My daughter was a victom treated like a criminal and i find it so unfair.
Colleen Noel Bird May 23, 2013 at 04:00 PM
Wanted to add that my child was wrong for hitting the other girl but still feel its unfair my child is the only one to suffer any consiquences from this situation

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