Manville schools sued over transgender student’s suicide

The mother of a Manville High School student who died by suicide has filed a lawsuit against the school district, claiming that they failed to address the bullying her child faced during their transition from a girl to a boy. Myles Fitzpatrick, a 17-year-old student who was set to graduate in June, took his own life in November. According to the lawsuit filed by his mother, Danielle Warshefski, on May 2 in Somerset County Superior Court, Myles experienced relentless harassment and bullying from fellow students based on his gender identity. The lawsuit aims to shed light on the failures of the current system and bring about improvements in addressing such issues.

R. Daniel Bause, Warshefski’s lawyer, stated, “We think the current system failed Myles, and we’re looking forward to proving the lawsuit’s claims to hopefully make things better in this area.” Jamil Maroun, the individual responsible for overseeing the schools in Manville, declined to provide a statement when approached for comment.

The lawsuit explains that Fitzpatrick publicly came out as transgender in December 2020 and began transitioning from female to male, adopting the name Myles. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Manville High School conducted classes online throughout the 2020-2021 school year. However, when in-person classes resumed in September 2021, Myles was subjected to harassment, threats, and bullying as outlined in the lawsuit.

The claim highlights instances of mocking Myles for his appearance and attire, misgendering him by using the wrong pronouns, and repeatedly asserting that he would never be a man. The bullying extended beyond verbal abuse, with physical incidents occurring in school corridors, including being shoved into lockers, having objects thrown at him, being kicked, and having his hair pulled. Similar mistreatment occurred when Myles changed clothes for gym class and used the boys’ bathroom or locker room.

The lawsuit further alleges that some of these incidents took place in the presence of teachers and staff members who failed to intervene. Despite Myles displaying signs of extreme sadness, anxiety, self-harm, and suicide ideation—including instances of self-harming at school and showing teachers his bloodied sleeves—no meaningful action was taken by the school personnel. Myles’s mother sought help from his psychologist and communicated the bullying to a teacher, but the claim states that the harassment only intensified without any apparent intervention.

In 2021, the school permitted Myles to change clothes for gym class in the staff lounge or nurse’s office due to the bullying he endured in the locker room. However, without any explanation, the school abruptly revoked this assistance, compelling Myles to change in the locker room again, which resulted in further mistreatment. Despite his mother’s repeated complaints about the school’s inaction, her request for alternatives such as virtual schooling or homeschooling was denied.

The lawsuit argues that the school district violated state regulations against discrimination by allowing a severe and pervasive environment of discrimination and harassment to persist. Additionally, the district is accused of negligence for failing to address the bullying effectively. Myles’s memorial reflects a loving family who cherishes the joyful memories they shared and requests that donations be made to Edge, an LGBTQ+ group in which Myles actively participated.

A GoFundMe page has been set up, raising nearly $16,000 in support of Myles’s family. Amit Paley, CEO and executive director of the Trevor Project, the largest organization providing assistance to LGBTQ+ youth in crisis, referred to suicide as a significant public health crisis within the LGBTQ+ community. Paley emphasized the lack of comprehensive data on LGBTQ+ suicides due to inconsistent recording practices of sexual orientation and gender identity at the time of death. Nonetheless, the high volume of calls, chats, and texts received by the Trevor Project—over 68,000 per year—illustrates the magnitude of the problem. Paley suggested a correlation between political climate and spikes in such incidents.

Adam Swanson, a senior prevention expert at the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC), shared his personal experience of attempting suicide at the age of nine. Swanson, who had not come out as LGBTQ+ during his grade school years, stated that he faced bullying due to his perceived differences.

The lawsuit highlights the devastating consequences of bullying and discrimination faced by transgender students and underscores the need for schools to address these issues promptly and effectively. It remains to be seen how the legal proceedings will unfold and what impact this case will have on creating safer and more inclusive environments for transgender students in schools.