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The parents of a boy who committed suicide after an embarrassing video was posted online are seeking $1 million from his school district, alleging the school was culpable for their bullied son's treatment.
Matthew Burdette, 14, of San Diego, killed himself in November after an online video of the teen in a school bathroom stall went viral; the classmate who posted the video claimed Matthew was masturbating. San Diego's KGTV reports that Burdette's school knew about the incident, but the boy's parents didn't learn about it until well after their son had passed.
Is the school potentially liable for Burdette's death?
Suicide Note Points to School, Parents Say
In his suicide note, Burdette said that he didn't want to kill himself but he just couldn't "do school anymore," reports KGTV. When his aunt and father went to University City High School with the note, officials "wouldn't tell them anything about what might have caused Matthew to hate school."
It was only after other students came forward that the Burdettes learned Matthew's suicide may have been linked to a viral video of the boy in a school bathroom -- an incident they claim the school was already aware of. But in responding to questions by KGTV, the district denied knowledge of the video before Matthew's death.
After feeling stonewalled by school administrators and state prosecutors, the Burdettes filed an administrative claim with the San Diego Public School District (SDPSD), asserting the district was liable for Matthew's death.
1st Step Toward Suing the School District
Like many public entities, public schools enjoy limited immunity from suits related to their students, staff, and property. This immunity can be overcome by filing an administrative claim with that public entity first, allowing the government body to evaluate and potentially settle the claim.
The SDPSD is no different, and it requires claims to be submitted using its standard form before a lawsuit may be filed against it in civil court. In their claim, the Burdettes charge the SDUSD with violating its duty to "supervise students at all times" under California law. By failing to uphold this duty, a student was able to capture the video of Matthew, disseminate it, and participate in bullying the teen, they argue.
Since the death of their son, the Burdettes claim to have suffered both economic losses because of his death (funeral expenses, future support and income, etc.) and non-economic losses (companionship, moral support, care, etc.).
California, like many other states, has specific laws mandating school attention and discipline for bullying. If the claim turns into a lawsuit, it may eventually be up to a court to determine whether the SDUSD did enough for Matthew.