LIVE OAK — The family of a 14-year-old who committed suicide two years ago is suing the Suwannee County School District and a teacher, alleging the teacher bullied the student.

The lawsuit, filed Oct. 5 in the Third Judicial Circuit Court in Suwannee County, alleges that a Suwannee High School science teacher “regularly and systematically bullied, verbally abused and publicly intimidated” Simmons by publicly berating and embarrassing him during class in front of the other students.

“Parents expect schools to be safe and nurturing places for our children,” said Jim Biggart, the family’s attorney. “No child should have to endure bullying, especially from a teacher, who, parents assume, will care for and encourage their child’s growth, not humiliate them.

“Kaleb was a 14-year-old child who previously never suffered from emotional or mental health issues. We believe his suicide was preventable had the school stepped in to stop the ongoing abuse he faced from his teacher. The school district knew this teacher was bullying him; other students bore witness to the taunting and intimidation; and yet, school administrators stood idly by and did nothing. We will fight for justice for Kaleb and to make sure nothing like this happens to another family again.”

According to the lawsuit, the teacher also accused Simmons of misbehaving and dishonesty, making him apologize for such behavior, even though he had not misbehaved.

The lawsuit also alleges the teacher humiliated the student by stating “Kaleb has an attitude” and “Kaleb wants all the attention” even though Simmons was shy, quiet and easily embarrassed, which the teacher should have known.

On Oct. 25, 2017, the day Simmons committed suicide, the lawsuit claims the teacher accused Simmons of cheating and then called his mother on his cell phone, allowing the class to listen on speakerphone — without telling her — causing Simmons to put his head down on his desk, cover his head with jacket and cry.

After school, Simmons “went to his bedroom and took his own life with a hunting rifle,” according to the lawsuit.

Ted Roush, the superintendent of the Suwannee County Schools, said the district is not to blame in the tragic situation.

“The Suwannee County School District takes the health, safety, and welfare of all of our students seriously,” Roush said in a statement issued to the media. “The school district, and our employees, deny that we had any role in the very tragic death of the former student.

“There is no merit to the allegations contained in the complaint that has been filed. We look forward to a complete exoneration through the legal process.”

Jamie Wachter is the editor of the Suwannee Democrat, Jasper News and Mayo Free Press.

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