South Hadley paid Prince family $225,000 in settlement

By December 28, 2011

A final update on the Phoebe Prince tragedy, the South Hadley teenager who took her life allegedly in response to a barrage of bullying, tragedy. Her family received $225,000 from the town and in exchange agreed not to sue the girl’s school district.
Read the full story from the Boston Globe here.
By Maria Cramer Globe Staff December 27, 2011
The family of Phoebe Prince, the South Hadley teenager who took her life allegedly in response to a barrage of bullying, received $225,000 from the town and in exchange agreed not to sue the girl’s school district, according to a copy of the settlement disclosed yesterday.
The disclosure was made four days after a Hampshire Superior Court judge ruled in favor of a reporter who had filed a lawsuit demanding that the town release the record.
Town officials had fought the reporter’s initial requests, saying they violated a confidentiality agreement with Prince’s family, who had accused the school district of ignoring the teenager’s suffering.
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PDF: Phoebe Prince agreement
Prince, a 15-year-old transfer student from Ireland, hanged herself in her home in January 2010. Her death led to a national outcry over bullying in schools.
Prince’s mother, Anne O’Brien, settled with the town in October 2010 because she wanted to avoid a trial. She feared a public legal proceeding would be painful for the family, which was still reeling from a news story that detailed Prince’s medical history, according to O’Brien’s brother Edward.
“My sister settled because she wanted this to stop,’’ Edward O’Brien said in a telephone interview from his New Hampshire home last night. “She needed to find some peace.’’
Prince’s parents had filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination in July 2010, alleging that South Hadley public schools had failed to protect Prince from discrimination.
The complaint accused the district of creating an “intimidating, hostile, and sexually offensive educational environment,’’ according to the lawsuit demanding release of the records. It was filed early this month by Emily Bazelon, a reporter and editor for the online magazine Slate.
The parents withdrew the complaint in November 2010 after they reached an agreement with the town.
The amount of the settlement was not revealed.
Backed by the American Civil Liberties Union, Bazelon filed the lawsuit after she said the town denied her numerous requests for the settlement amount and details.
On Dec. 23, Judge Mary-Lou Rup ordered the town to release the settlement amount and details.
William Newman, director of the ACLU’s Western Massachusetts Legal Office in Northampton, represented Bazelon and called the decision a victory for the public.
“The public has a right to know this information,’’ he said. “The ACLU brought this lawsuit on behalf of Emily in order to vindicate that right. I think the court’s decision is a testament to the importance of transparency in the government.’’
Edward Ryan Jr., the town’s counsel, could not be reached for comment last night. Prince’s family did not fight Bazelon’s lawsuit.
“What I cared about in bringing this forward is setting a precedent that, in situations like this, the public’s right to know has to come first,’’ Bazelon said.
The three-page settlement reveals little beyond the amount given to Prince’s family, who agreed not to discuss the terms of the agreement.
The six students accused of tormenting Prince were charged with various crimes from harassment and stalking to statutory rape. The rape charge was dropped against one of the students, at the request of Prince’s family.
None of the other teenagers, who admitted to bullying Prince, received jail time. Prosecutors defended the plea deals and said the ordeal of being charged and of publicly admitting wrongdoing were powerful enough punishments.
Criticism against school district leaders was fierce and swift.
Read the rest of story here.