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Sunday 23 April 2017

School staff 'unaware' of Phoebe bullying

Victim Phoebe Prince
Victim Phoebe Prince

Shane Hickey

THE official in charge of a US school where an Irish teenager was bullied before she took her own life has defended how staff handled the situation which has resulted in nine students facing charges.

Schools superintendent Gus Sayer said staff at the school where Phoebe Prince was a pupil only became aware of the degree of bullying the 15-year-old was facing a week before her suicide.

Phoebe had been living in Massachusetts since last year after her family moved from Fanore in Co Clare where she had grown up.

She killed herself after a tirade of bullying from a group of so-called 'mean girls' which followed a brief relationship she had with a football player in her school.

Officials have come in for substantial criticism since the death in January with the possibility of legal charges being laid against them not being ruled out.

However, Mr Sayer has told US media that they took "very strong action" once they became aware of the abuse, which extended to social networking websites.

"We don't have knowledge of any bullying or other incidents before that. No one turned their back on this. I think we did everything we could. If I thought I had done something wrong, I would resign. But I think we did our best," he said.

Earlier this week, local district attorney Elizabeth Schiebel said the bullying had been common knowledge amongst the student body, criticising the alleged lack of action on behalf of some members of staff at South Hadley High School.

Phoebe hanged herself in her family's apartment on January 14, after a final, horrific day of abuse.

Mr Sayer disagreed with the district attorney and said her claims countered the findings of an investigation conducted by school principal Dan Smith.

Awareness

"Based on our investigation, that wasn't the case. He followed up every lead, but we didn't get any other reports," he said.

He said the abuse happened outside of the awareness of adults.

"The kids have a way of communicating with each other without us knowing about it,'' he said. "They really have their own world.''

These comments in turn were responded to by Ms Schiebel who accused the schools official of "lashing out" and being unaware of the evidence.

Nine students, including seven girls, have been charged with offences including civil rights violations, statutory rape, stalking and inflicting bodily injury to Phoebe Prince.

Irish Independent

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