FAIRFIELD, Ohio – Teachers and administrators could lose their licenses if a state investigation finds they were negligent in the case of a Fairfield middle schooler who committed suicide.
The Office of Professional Conduct of the Ohio Department of Education confirmed to WCPO that it is investigating the case of 13-year-old Emilie Olsen, who complained of being bullied at school and shot herself in 2014.
They're looking at whether staff members committed incompetent or negligent acts, said civil rights attorney Konrad Kircher.
"All the Ohio Department of Education has to establish is that a teacher acted unreasonably under the circumstances or that the teacher failed to use ordinary care," Kircher said.
Emilie's parents sued Fairfield City Schools, the former superintendent, former middle school principal and other staff members in federal court for compensation and changes to school policies on bullying, harassment and discrimination.
It would be harder to win a lawsuit because that would require higher standards of proof, Kircher said.
"I think the legal case is an uphill battle based on the law," said Kircher, a former Kings school board member.
Kircher said the Olsens must prove the district had actual knowledge of imminent harm to their daughter.
The test is whether deliberate indifference was shown.
"It's not that someone acted unreasonably or negligently, but that they acted almost with the willingness to let a child be harmed," Kircher said.
Despite the high standards, Kircher says lawsuits like this have a purpose.
"Even if they lose, they may change society. They may change laws and most of all they're going to increase awareness," Kircher said.
Because the cases are pending, Fairfield City Schools aren't commenting. But there have been a number of changes. There's a new superintendent, a new middle school principal and many policies have been revised.
Fairfield Middle School Principal Lincoln Butts resigned for "personal reasons" amid accusations he intimidated Olsen's parents after her death.
Olsen's parents claimed Butts showed up at their home, unannounced and accompanied by two police officers five days after their daughter's suicide. The parents claim Butts and police demanded that Olsen's father let them into his home but refused to say why they were there. One officer flashed his badge, the parents claimed.
Four days after Emilie's suicide, Fairfield City School administrators were confident enough to release this statement to parents and students:
“There have been many rumors and misinformation about bullying with regard to this tragedy. The district has never had an indication – by self-report, or reports from others – that bullying has ever occurred.”