A Tennessee woman alleges her special needs daughter was "beaten and whipped" by classmates last August after years of bullying that she said was ignored by school administrators.
The woman, Chrystal Finney, is suing the Giles County Board of Education and its director, Vickie Beard, alleging negligence. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for Middle Tennessee on Aug. 11, nearly a year after the attack.
The suit alleges that Finney's daughter, identified as JF in the document, was harassed and bullied for years while she attended the Giles County School System. The girl has autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, Tourette syndrome and other disabilities, according to the lawsuit. As a form of treatment, she uses horse therapy. When the girl would become overwhelmed, she would sometimes act "like a horse by running and making certain sounds a horse may make," the lawsuit states.
The suit alleges numerous instances of bullying dating to 2013. In one incident, classmates pushed the girl into a bathroom, turned the lights off, called her names, laughed at her and avoided her "to hurt her feelings," the suit claims.
Another allegation is that a teacher "ignored JF’s condition and intimidated and bullied JF," the lawsuit says, without providing further details. The suit also says a bus assistant approached the girl, "acted threatening to her" and "scared her."
Finney sent numerous letters to administrators, but "the school took no meaningful action to prevent the further harassment and attacks," according to the lawsuit.
It alleges that the bullying continued and that it escalated on Aug. 13, 2021, when, it says, Finney's daughter was assaulted in an outside area at Richland High School.
"While in the designated area, a student obtained a stick from a nearby tree and struck JF in the head and body while pretending he was taming a horse — a clear reference to JF’s actions affiliated with her horse therapy," the suit says.
"Thereafter, a gang of approximately six other students surrounded JF, joined in on the beating, and began to strike JF with sticks. This activity drew the attention of other students, including students from other grade levels, and this resulted in a mass of students that encircled JF in such a manner as to render her unable to retreat and forced to endure a physical beating by her peers."
One student pushed the girl off a short embankment and threw a water bottle at her head, according to the lawsuit.
Part of the attack was captured on cellphone video that Finney shared on a "Justice for Joella" Facebook page. In it, a group of students surrounds the girl. At least one boy has a long stick in his hand, and another boy appears to walk toward the girl and kick her.
Finney said in the lawsuit that her daughter had scratches and welts on her arm, an injury to her head and a mark on her eye.
The Board of Education said in a statement last year that it was aware of what happened, that it had informed the proper authorities and that it was conducting its own investigation.
The board and Beard, its director, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday. The Giles County Sheriff’s Department referred questions to the district attorney's office, which could not be reached for comment.