Lehigh Valley

A mother blames bullies at Pen Argyl School District for her daughter's suicide

Superintendent says suicide victim never reported being bullied

WIND GAP, Pa. - A mother whose daughter committed suicide in February blamed the Pen Argyl Area School District Tuesday night for not cracking down on school bullies, whom she claimed drove her daughter into a state of deep depression and ultimately the decision to shoot herself.

"I feel I was failed and my daughter was failed," Robin Zotynia told the school board at a meeting packed with parents and students who said they had either experienced or were aware of bullying in the school district.

Zotynia said her 14-year-old daughter, Courtney, was made fun of at school and no one wanted to sit with her at lunch, leaving her feeling, "I'll never be good enough."

"And that's what she was told every day," the mother said.

Besides the cutting remarks at school, Zotynia said her daughter was also the victim of "cyber bullying," or Internet postings.

"Bullying is serious here," Zotynia said. "I know no one wants to admit it." She faulted the school district for suggesting family problems, not bullying, led to her daughter's suicide.

Her comments and similar remarks from parents and students drew applause.

After the public spoke, Superintendent William Haberl addressed the claims and allegations point by point. He told the group the district does take bullying seriously and is required by law to document, investigate and send reports to the state about it.

So far this year, he said, there have been 25 reports of bullying and only 7 were founded to be actual cases of bullying. One student, who he said "is no longer here," was responsible for 3 of those cases.

Haberl said "bullying" has become a "buzz word" of the 21st Century and has been inappropriately used when "sometimes kids are being mean." Bullying, he said, refers to "really pounding on" someone who is "submissive to that."

In the suicide of Zotynia's daughter, Haberl said he had reviewed the file, noting that Courtney had been a frequent visitor to the guidance counselor's office, showing up "two or three times a week for sorts of problems." Haberl said privacy laws prevented him from discussing details of those visits.

"She reported things I can't say," the superintendent said. He did say, though, that Courtney "never reported to anybody that she was being bullied."

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