School has pattern of on-campus assaults, social media bullying, suing mom claims
A year before 14-year-old Adriana Olivia Kuch was harassed and assaulted at Central Regional High School, another freshman girl experienced similar treatment, according to a lawsuit.
Kuch died by suicide on February 3, prompting calls for culture changes at the school. Her death also inspired parent Rachel O’Dea to share what she says her daughter experienced at the school.
“It’s a travesty that this is going on,” said O’Dea, who filed a civil lawsuit against the Central Regional School District in October 2022 on behalf of her daughter Olivia.
“There is no accountability, no changes are made. It’s not something new for them,” said O’Dea, who works as deputy operations officer at Mental Health Association of New Jersey, Inc., a nonprofit advocacy group.
(NJ Advance Media doesn’t typically identify victims of bullying, but Olivia agreed to share her story. Her mother said on her behalf, “We don’t want other kids to feel alone.”)
Adriana killed herself on Feb. 3, days after a video of her being attacked by four classmates circulated in the Bayville community, her father, Michael Kuch, told NJ Advance Media.
The video showing an assault of Adriana on school grounds was recorded by student observers and shared widely on social media, Kuch said. The incident lasted less than a minute, according to footage shared with NJ Advance Media.
Four students involved in the attack have been criminally charged, authorities said Saturday. This weekend also the district superintendent Triantafillos Parlapanides suddenly resigned.
“This has been going on for some time. The school has a culture of violence and assault,” said Jonathan Ettman, an attorney representing the O’Dea family. “Students are constantly being jumped and punched and filmed, and it goes straight to social media.”
“It’s going on in other districts,” he continued. “But in this particular school there is a real pattern of events like this, and it should never have happened to this young girl.”
Olivia O’Dea was also a 14-year-old freshman attending Central Regional High School when she began receiving text messages from another student threatening to physically harm her, according to the civil lawsuit filed by her parents .
The threats escalated into harassment in the school, in which three students taunted Olivia and said they were going to “jump” her, the suit states.
Olivia reported the behavior to a teacher, guidance counselor and administrators at the time, but no action was taken to address the behavior, the suit alleges.
On January 10, 2022, two students physically assaulted Olivia in a high school hallway, hitting her head, neck and back, the lawsuit alleges. The assault was filmed and later posted on a social media platform, which mocked her, according to the complaint.
The case is still pending in Ocean County Superior Court, records show.
When asked earlier this week, before his resignation, whether the assault on Olivia and the subsequent assault on Adriana indicated a problem at Central Regional High School, Parlapanides said bullying is a problem everywhere.
“There are bullies everywhere. This is unacceptable,” Parlapanides told NJ Advance Media. “But we address everything. If we know about it, we will address it.”
“The biggest problem is, a lot of it is cyberbullying and if you don’t let us know about it, we can’t fix it,” he continued. “We’re not the internet police…you have to let us know.”
“If we know about it, we will do our best to do something about it and make sure your child is safe,” said Parlapanides.
But the school district, parents and fellow students say, has not done enough to combat bullying. There were seven investigations into alleged and confirmed harassment, intimidation and bullying (HIB) at Central Regional High School during the 2019-20 school year, according to state data.
Students staged a walkout on Wednesday to protest bullying in the district. On Thursday, there was another protest by students, but participants claim that they were told not to protest by the administration.
Parlapanides said students have been told that future rallies will not be allowed without prior administrative approval, otherwise action will be taken in accordance with policy.
Editor’s Note: NJ Advance Media generally limits reporting on suicides to those that occur in crowded public places, involve public figures or, in special circumstances, where there is a greater public impact. Suicidal thoughts and behaviors can be reduced with the proper mental health support and treatment. If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.
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Jackie Roman can be reached at [email protected]