A wrongful death lawsuit against Cincinnati Public Schools officials in the January 2017 suicide of eight-year-old Gabriel Taye can now move to trial following a decision in federal appeals court.
The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati on Tuesday rejected an immunity claim from CPS, citing evidence that school officials acted "recklessly" in their handling of Gabriel's bullying, according to an opinion from Circuit Court Judge Bernice Bouie Donald.
"As alleged, (the defendants') behavior shows 'conscious disregard of or indifference to a known or obvious risk of harm' to Taye that was 'unreasonable under the circumstances' because they knew Taye was harassed and bullied at school and that a risk of bullying is suicide, and yet they utterly failed to take reasonable steps to protect Taye from that risk," Donald wrote.
Gabriel was a third-grader attending Carson Elementary in West Price Hill when he committed suicide Jan. 26, 2017. Just days before, he was attacked in the school bathroom and knocked unconscious for more than seven minutes, according to court documents.
CPS rules require that paramedics are summoned after a minute of unconsciousness, but officials failed to do so in Gabriel's case.
Gabriel suffered a head injury during the attack. But Cornelia Reynolds, Gabriel's mother, was told by the school nurse that he had fainted and did not require hospital care, the court documents stated.
That night, Reynolds took her son to Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center where he was treated for an upset stomach and sent home.
Gabriel was bullied again when he returned to school two days later. That same night he took his own life.
This was just one of 12 incidents that occurred between Gabriel's first grade and third grade years and Carson Elementary, the court documents stated.
Gabriel's family alleges there was a pattern of bullying that school officials concealed and that information about these incidents was only uncovered after his death.
After the family sued, CPS asked U.S. District Judge Timothy S. Black in Cincinnati to dismiss the case. But in 2018, Black ruled the case should go to trial, citing evidence that school officials had downplayed or concealed the bullying.
"The fact that Carson officially reported zero incidents of bullying in the first half of Taye's third-grade year, even though the behavior log documented several events described as bullying, may ultimately show that the board defendants were aware that bullying was being concealed at Carson," Black wrote in his decision.
In December 2019, CPS appealed to the Sixth Circuit in an effort to overturn Black's decision.
Gabriel's death served to demonstrate the rise in youth suicide both regionally and nationally. A 2018 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that suicide as a cause of death in Ohio rose by more than 30% from 1999 to 2016.