“This lawsuit has at least allowed them, in the limited way lawsuits can do, to honor Gabe by trying to help the next kid.”
— Al Gerhardstein, attorney for parents
“Resolution of this difficult matter is in the best interest of all parties.”
— Alan M. Herzig, attorney for school district
Gabriel Taye was a third grader in the Cincinnati Public School system in the 2016-2017 school year. His school photo shows a smiling young man in a bright green shirt beaming above a dapper vest and a matching tie. He loved his ties, and hoped to join the military someday according to news reports from Cincinnati television stations.
Four years ago this Jan. 24, Gabriel came home from school complaining of stomach pains. His parents took him to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and he missed a day of school. They say that the school district never informed them of the true cause of his stomach pain, and so after that single day off, they sent him back to school.
What his parents say they did not know — would not know, they claim, until after they sued the school district — was that on Jan. 24, another student pushed Gabriel into a wall at Carson Elementary, knocking him unconscious. For seven minutes, security video shows him laying on the ground as other students walk by, some stepping over him without helping.
Eventually, an assistant principal found him on the ground. Although the administrator rendered aid, he did not call the police or 911 for medical aid. On Jan. 26, when Gabe returned to school, he was bullied again. This time, two other students cornered him in a restroom, stealing his water bottle and trying to flush it down a toilet.
Gabriel returned home from school on the Jan. 26, 2017, went to his room, took out one of his beloved ties, and hanged himself from his bunk bed. He was 8 years old. An investigation by a local television station showed that the Cincinnati Public Schools’ official bullying report shows no reported bullying incidents in the months prior to Gabriel’s death.
Back in December, a three-judge panel of the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that Cincinnati school officials could not claim qualified immunity because their behavior was reckless. I bookmarked the story intending to write about the decision, but then decided to hold off to see how the case was resolved.
On Monday night, the Cincinnati school board approved a settlement agreement in the case that includes a payment to Gabriel’s parents of more than $3 million dollars for pain and suffering. But the agreement goes far beyond just the financial aspects. Among the other terms, the district agreed to track repeat bullying offenders, victims and locations, improve the ability of school nurses to report, and act on bullying incidents when disclosures are made or they see injuries that they believe are caused by bullying, utilize restorative justice methods in dealing with bullying incidents, adopt the State of Ohio’s model policy for handling bullying incidents, and provide district-wide training of all faculty, staff and administration on the changes. Additionally, a memorial to Gabriel will be placed at Carson Elementary School.
Ohio’s model anti-bullying policy, anti-bullying guidance, and a model plan for schoolwide safety can be found at the website of the Ohio Department of Education: education.ohio.gov. Federal resources can be found online at StopBullying.gov.
Attorneys for the family and school officials also agreed to meet every six months for the next two years in order to monitor the implementation of the settlement. Attorney Al Gerhardstein, perhaps best known for representing James Obergefell in the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark same-sex marriage decision in 2015, represented Gabriel’s parents in this matter. On Monday, he told reporters that the school memorial for Gabriel will likely be a bench. On it, will be placed an inscription would we all be wise to heed: “I will always stand up to bullies. I will always be kind and respectful. I will always be a friend to others. I will always look out for those in need.”
David Hejmanowski is judge of the Probate/Juvenile Division of the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas, where he has served as magistrate, court administrator, and now judge, since 2003. He has written a weekly column on law and history for The Gazette since 2005.