FAIRFIELD, Ohio -- A Butler County school system accused in a lawsuit of being unresponsive to bullying and causing the suicide of a student has created its first district-level position to deal with bullying.
The Fairfield Board of Education voted 4-0 to approve Donna Martin as the Fairfield City School District's bullying and harassment officer, a new position created to "streamline efforts to address complaints of bullying and harassment," district spokeswoman Gina Gentry-Fletcher said.
The school board approved a two-year contract for Martin with an annual salary of $62,000.
The appointment comes a little less than three years after Fairfield seventh-grader Emilie Olsen killed herself over what her parents claim was constant bullying at the school.
Four days after Olsen’s suicide, school administrators told parents and students there were “rumors and misinformation about bullying with regard to this tragedy,” and the school district “never had an indication” bullying occurred.
A May 2015 I-Team investigation found emails, school reports, a social media account and more that exposed flaws in the way administrators handled the teen’s suicide.
Parents and community members called for Fairfield City School leaders to change the way they handle bullying cases during a May 21, 2015 school board meeting, but officials said at the time they would not change policies.
“District leaders have not discussed revising or reviewing the bullying policy,” Gentry-Fletcher said after the meeting.
But the school is updating its policies with Martin’s new harassment officer role. The school’s website states Martin “will be responsible for maintaining appropriate records regarding bullying and harassment, while reviewing and recommending revisions and updates to policies and procedures.”
Another Fairfield Middle School student, 13-year-old Lillian Adams, took her own life on June 21.
Her mother, Paula Adams, said she noticed signs of bullying online but not at school. Lillian’s father had recently passed away when she committed suicide.
Since her daughter's death, Paula has started Project Lira to provide resources to young people who have thoughts of suicide.
Paula said she’s glad the school added the anti-bullying position.
"I feel like there's a lot of people that would give us a lot of input so we can take what we've learned and what other people's experiences are ... I think Lily and Emilie would be happy about that,” she said.
Martin, currently Fairfield Schools’ coordinator of district information, will also "coordinate district preventives and training for students, staff and parents."
Fairfield Superintendent Billy Smith said Martin will also "ensure that allegations of bullying and harassment are appropriately investigated according to board policy."
Olsen’s parents filed a federal lawsuit in December 2015, accusing nine Fairfield City School District officials, the school district and the school board of knowing she was bullied at school and did not act to stop it before she committed suicide.
In April 2016, Fairfield school officials filed a rebuttal to the lawsuit.
In a separate filing, school officials asked the judge in a U.S. District Court in Cincinnati to rule on 10 counts made in the Olsen’s lawsuit without allowing them to introduce evidence.
U.S. District Court Judge Michael Barrett released a calendar for the case and a jury trial is tentatively set in February 2018.
Fairfield school officials have refused to comment publicly on the Olsen case citing pending litigation.
Gentry-Fletcher said the new bullying and harassment officer position "is not" connected in any way to the Olsen case. She added, "but as you know, we do not comment on pending litigation."
"The new position will provide a layer of accountability in our work to ensure that our students learn in a safe and secure environment," she said. "That is our top priority."
The Journal-News contributed to this report.