Parents of daughter who, suit claims, was harassed will appear in court next month

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The parents of a Merrick girl will appear in court next month on their lawsuit claiming that the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District failed to prevent students from violating their daughter's civil rights by harassment and cyberbullying with a lewd video.

The original complaint, filed in December, identified two Merrick Avenue Middle School students who allegedly made the video on school property and conspired to circulate it.

In April 2013, the then-eighth-grader, who Newsday is not identifying, learned of the video after she had transferred to a private school. She had been assigned to, but never attended, a district school.

The students who made it falsely claimed it portrayed her, the suit says.

State Supreme Court Justice Thomas Feinman last week granted the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District's request to remove Superintendent John DeTommasso and middle school Principal Meador Pratt as defendants.

But he let go forward the claim that the district is responsible for such students' actions, even if, as in this case, the student involved went on to a private school.

The district had argued that the 2012 anti-bullying law -- the Dignity for All Students Act -- did not cover a private school.

"The District's interpretation [of the law] . . . would have the effect of an absurd result . . . [which] would, in effect, turn a blind eye to any such incidents occurring on or off school property, regardless of any potential serial harmful acts . . . by its students should the targeted student be of a certain class . . . a private school student," Feinman wrote.

"The District . . . has a duty to regulate harassment, cyberbullying and bullying, conduct allegedly perpetrated by the District's students," it said.

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Jacques Simon, the family's lawyer, said: "This girl had a long history of being bullied . . . [in the district], which is why she was moved to a private school in 2011."

A district spokeswoman said officials could not comment on active litigation.

While the district sanctioned the students who made the video, investigated it and reported it to police, it failed to prevent further incidents, such as the plaintiff being defamed on the Internet, the plaintiff said in papers.

Neither the girl nor her parents saw the video, said Simon.

"It is only known to me by statements of one of the kids involved, and it has certainly been around quite a while -- at least six months," he said.

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The girl's family has filed a separate suit against the two students' families.

 

A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the girl's attendance in the district and incorrectly spelled the name of the superintendent.

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