Parents of Mississippi teen with rare skin issue sue school district over bullying

Published 8:38 pm Monday, July 18, 2022

A lawsuit alleges that a Mississippi high school soccer player with a rare skin disease was bullied and physically assaulted for months, with school officials failing to respond.

The parents of the 15-year-old boy have sued the Pass Christian school district, a principal and Jones College in Ellisville, seeking unspecified damages, saying all three failed to protect their son.

The Sun Herald reported the lawsuit says the student has Darier disease, which can cause wart-like blemishes to flare up on skin that is contaminated or irritated. The parents say soccer teammates would rub muscle pain ointment or bleach on their son’s socks, or drag his clothes through the dirt, mostly during soccer practice or before games in the 2020-21 school year.

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The assaults intensified when the team attended soccer camp in June 2021 at Jones College, a community college in Ellisville, the suit alleges. There, it claimed players stripped off the boy’s clothes, poured hot liquids on the boy’s face, or shoved a canned sausage in his throat, and that the players showed videos of the assaults on social media.

Pass Christian School Superintendent Carla J. Evers said in a statement Monday that an incident involving student-athletes was reported after the June 2021 camp.

“The high school principal and the athletic coordinator conducted an immediate in-depth investigation which was presented at both school- and district-level disciplinary hearings,” Evers said. “The school and district followed their code of conduct and disciplined the involved students.”

Evers said the school district “believes that all students should be accepted, valued, and safe” and that “no child should be subject to the reported treatment.” She also district is aware of the lawsuit and “looks forward to having an opportunity to share all of the facts in court.”

“This case has brought to light the importance of talking to your children about making good decisions and reporting when they see something that does not meet our expectations,” Evers said.

The suit identifies a Pass Christian High School assistant principal, Jedediah “Jed” Mooney, as someone who allegedly knew of the abuse and “encouraged’ or “turned a blind eye” to it and even allegedly “belittled” the victim himself at times. Mooney was not listed as an assistant principal on the school’s website Monday, and it was not immediately clear whether he is represented by an attorney. Evers’ statement did not answer questions from The Associated Press about Mooney’s employment status.

Jones College President Jesse Smith said one of the boy’s parents reported attacks on their son while the team was attending a soccer camp at the Ellisville community college in June 2021. He said the case reported to the Jones County district attorney and to Jones County Youth Court. It’s unclear if any of the alleged assailants faced Youth Court charges. Wayne Bates, a special prosecutor named in the case, declined comment citing privacy laws in Youth Court. No one was charged as an adult.

The victim’s parents say they “were forced to remove him from school” because their son had become “extremely fearful of attending school and terrified that he might be subjected to further abuse.” Although the parents’ names are in court records, AP is not identifying them because doing so could identify their son.

The lawsuit accuses the school district of failing to follow its policies to protect students from bullying, harassment or assaults, despite the boy and his parents reporting the alleged attacks to school officials. The suit says Jones College provided little supervision in dorms during the camp.

The lawsuit says the victim recovered part of one video. The other boys supposedly joked by electronic message about the soccer camp or threatened to beat up anyone who turned them in, it states.

WLOX-TV reported lawyers for the family in June 2021 sent a notice to the Pass Christian school district, including one of the videos. The claim letter offered to settle the case for $500,000 if the school district adopted a zero tolerance anti-bullying policy, and required all students and staff to participate in mandatory training.