URBANA — The mother of an Urbana student has filed a lawsuit in Champaign County, saying the Urbana school board and two other officials failed to protect her daughter from bullies.
The lawsuit, filed by Mahomet attorney Gerald Smith on behalf of Urbana resident Vilma Hascall and her daughter, names Thomas Paine Elementary Principal Sandra Cooper, Urbana Superintendent Preston Williams and Urbana's school board as defendants.
The suit accuses Williams and Cooper of intentional indifference to the situation, fraud, "intentional infliction of emotional distress," and Cooper of retaliation for restricting Vilma Hascall's husband, James Hascall, from visiting the school, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also accuses Urbana's school board of fraud, intentional infliction of emotional distress and basic negligence.
Smith is seeking more than $50,000 in damages, he said.
"It's been reported to the school, the superintendent and the school board, and nothing has been done," Smith said. "We have subsequently found out that there are other families in the same situation. The desired outcome is that we want something done to stop the bullying."
On Monday, Collinsville attorney Dennis Weedman, whose firm, Robbins, Schwartz, Nicholas, Lifton & Taylor Ltd. represents the school district, said he can't comment on the content of the lawsuit because it would violate student confidentiality and the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act.
He said the school district plans to respond by asking the court to dismiss the complaint.
"We have 30 days to do that," Weedman said.
The suit alleges that Hascall's daughter, now a fourth-grader at Thomas Paine, has been bullied since kindergarten by the same group of girls.
Now a fourth-grader, she has missed 10 days of school this year and doesn't want to go to school because she's being bullied, the lawsuit said. Since this fall, she has also had trouble sleeping and nightmares, along with "physical illness to include stomachaches, headaches and worsening of her asthma, mental anguish and significant emotional distress."
The situation started then as name-calling and teasing and escalated in 2008-09, when the girl was in second grade, to hair-pulling and putting items in the girl's hair.
The next year, the name-calling and hair-pulling continued, and the other girls started threatening Hascall's daughter during recess.
This school year, the behavior continued, and Hascall's daughter would spend her recess time hiding from the other girls. She also started having more asthma attacks, a condition she had been diagnosed with in first grade. Hascall contacted Cooper last August, the lawsuit states, asking that her daughter be moved to a different classroom. Hascall also requested a meeting with Cooper, Williams, the police and the other girls' parents last August, which the lawsuit said Williams denied, adding that the school district would contact the parents.
Last October, Hascall's daughter had an asthma attack, and the other girls followed her into the bathroom and blocked her so she couldn't leave. Hascall called Urbana police, and the next day, the lawsuit said, Cooper called her, saying she would call the other girls' parents.
In November, one girl slapped a book Hascall's daughter was holding, according to the lawsuit, and when Hascall's daughter went to the bathroom, three girls followed her, kicked open a bathroom stall door, hitting the girl, and threatened to kill her.
Hascall called the police again, who contacted the other girls' parents. Those parents said they had never heard about the situation, according to the lawsuit.
Cooper also told Urbana police she had no knowledge of Hascall's daughter being bullied until last October.
During a November meeting at the school, Cooper told James Hascall and another parent she "felt it wasn't necessary to inform parents of the situation," according to the lawsuit, and "felt it was just girls being girls."
"During that meeting, Mr. Hascall demonstrated his anger and frustration with the situation and the deceit on the part of Cooper," according to the lawsuit. "By letter dated Nov. 26, 2011, Mr. James Hascall had his visits to Thomas Paine Elementary School restricted by Cooper."
Vilma Hascall again requested a meeting with Cooper, her daughter's teacher, Williams, the police and the parents of the other girls, and again her request was denied.
Hascall told the Urbana school board about the issue during the board's Dec. 6 meeting.
"Parents of other children have stated that their children experienced bullying ... and when reported to Cooper, they were informed that the situation would be remedied, and appropriate discipline would be rendered," the suit states.
"However, these parents have stated that no discipline had been issued, and the bullying has not ceased."
The suit charges that Cooper failed to protect Hascall's daughter, failed to notify the parents of the girls allegedly bullying her daughter and disregarded complaints from Hascall and her daughter.
It charges that Williams failed to properly supervise Cooper and failed to notify the other girls' parents of the situation.
All these things caused Hascall's daughter to suffer physical injury, emotional distress and "diminished educational learning," according to the lawsuit. They also caused Hascall "to suffer mental anguish and significant emotional distress for the well-being of her child at school."
The lawsuit alleges the school board is liable for Cooper and Williams' behaviors and was "negligent in its supervision of the (superintendent)" by not enforcing the district's policies on bully prevention and student discipline.
School board President John Dimit said he was unaware of the lawsuit and would not comment on it.
Williams was out of the office Monday, and his office directed phone calls to Weedman.
Phone messages left for Cooper went unreturned.