Todd Seehus’ 13-year-old son died by suicide in February 2015 after kids called him “freak” and shoved him into lockers at Lincoln Park Middle School in Duluth, a federal lawsuit alleges. Now, Seehus is suing the Duluth School District for failing to curb the bullying that he says prompted his son’s death.
The suit filed Friday in U.S. District Court says the district, the school board, and former and current administrators at Lincoln Park Middle School didn’t address the bullying of his son, Tristan Seehus. The district’s lack of response amounted to discrimination against Tristan because of his perceived sexual orientation or gender expression, according to the suit.
“Tristan’s suicide was a foreseeable result of Defendants’ failure to provide him a safe educational environment,” the lawsuit said.
School district officials said in an e-mailed statement Tuesday that they have policies that are in step with Minnesota’s Safe and Supportive Schools Act and federal harassment laws.
“While we can’t comment specifically on the litigation, it’s important to know that our schools endeavor to create an environment where all students are treated with respect and to validate the rights of all students to a safe and welcoming environment,” the statement said.
Tristan Seehus attended Lincoln Park Middle School from September 2012 until his suicide last year. During that time, he was bullied by students because of that perceived sexual orientation, the suit said.
According to the suit, Tristan didn’t identify as gay, but didn’t “conform to traditional stereotypes of masculinity.” Other students perceived him to be gay.
The district ignored and diminished the abuse, the complaint said, and didn’t adequately carry out policies that ban harassment related to sexual orientation, whether actual or perceived.
Tristan was called names and told “he looks ‘like a girl.’ ” Some students knocked books out of his hands, the suit said.
The district dealt with Tristan differently “than other similarly situated students on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation,” despite complaints.
The district didn’t give him a safe learning environment, and its unacceptable response harmed Tristan with harassment that eventually drove him to suicide on Feb. 12, 2015, the suit said.
Seehus’ complaint seeks damages and an order for the School District to improve its response to such incidents. Options the complaint listed included training programs on homophobia and diversity, policies to address bullying complaints and data collection.
The National Center for Education Statistics reported that about 20 percent of students ages 12 to 18 said they were bullied at school during the school year in 2013.
The bullying ultimately caused Tristan’s death, said Lori Peterson, attorney for Todd Seehus.
“This should never happen, let alone to kids who are forced to interact with their tormentors in school every day,” she said in an e-mail. “We hope we’ll be able to make a difference for other kids through bringing this action.”