The parents of a Wyoming, fifth grader who hanged himself in a bathroom at Carpenter Elementary School are now suing the school district, its superintendent, the school principal and the boy’s music teacher in federal court.
Paul and Chandel Pine, as wrongful-death representatives for their 11-year-old son Paul Kenneth Pine, launched the civil lawsuit Thursday in the U.S. District Court for Wyoming against Laramie County School District No. 2, Superintendent Justin Pierantoni, Principal Tyler Muniz and music teacher Amelia Giordano.
Giordano also faces a criminal child endangerment charge in Cheyenne Circuit Court.
The parents’ lawsuit is asking for punitive, or punishing, damages from Muniz and Giordano, whom the parents are suing in their individual capacities. The parents also are asking for compensatory damages for their losses from all defendants, plus attorney fees and pre- and post-judgment interest.
The Pines allege that the school district violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by not properly heeding the preventative plan in place for young Paul.
The boy had been suicidal for months, according to the lawsuit complaint.
The complaint accuses the district of denying reasonable accommodations for Paul’s needs and claims all defendants violated Paul’s constitutional due-process rights. The lawsuit also launches a wrongful death claim against all defendants.
Laramie County School District No. 2 leadership did not immediately return a Cowboy State Daily voicemail Friday. Neither Giordano nor Muniz could be reached by publication time.
Paul was a “beloved son, fun brother and a protective friend,” says the lawsuit, adding that the boy also suffered from depression, anxiety and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). He worried excessively and could be withdrawn and irritable as he fought back feelings of being alone and unloved, the complaint says.
On Oct. 10, 2022, the boy grew angry after an argument with his younger brother as they were getting ready to go to football practice. The boy grabbed a pencil and started stabbing his thighs. His mother asked what was wrong, and the boy said he felt like killing himself, the affidavit says.
He’d been having suicidal thoughts for more than a week and had a plan for how he’d kill himself, the document claims. Paul allegedly said he was going to bring a knife to school, go into the bathroom near the music room because “no one goes in there,” and stab himself under his ribs, into his heart.
Mental Health Visit
His parents took him to the emergency room, where personnel stabilized and gave him a suicide risk assessment. Under doctors’ recommendations, an ambulance took Paul the next day to Highlands Behavioral Health (HBH) for inpatient mental health treatment, says the complaint.
The complaint also says Chandel Pine called her son’s principal that same day and told him the boy was at HBH for suicidal ideation and would not be in school that week. The mother reportedly told the principal about the boy’s plan to bring a knife to school and kill himself in the bathroom near the music room.
The mental health facility discharged the boy Oct. 17, 2022.
The next day, Paul and his mother met with Principal Muniz and Paul’s teachers for a Behavioral Intervention Team (BIT) meeting to discuss the crisis and the boy’s return to school, as well as Paul’s plan to kill himself in that bathroom, says the complaint.
The document says Muniz proposed a safety plan and the BIT team agreed: Paul was not to leave class alone or be in any bathroom alone.
A Knife In My Lunchbox
Paul was back in school Oct. 19, 2022.
Six days later, he played a prank on a friend, pulling a chair from under him as the friend was about to sit down, says the complaint. The boy was “immediately” distraught at the fear he’d hurt his friend and went to his desk and started stabbing his arms and leg with a pen.
Paul was sent to Muniz’s office, where the principal and school counselor performed a suicide risk assessment, the document claims. They reported the boy was desponded, withdrawn, tearful and sad, and asked if he was thinking about killing himself.
“Yeah, every time I hurt someone and when I get bullied,” Paul reportedly responded.
They asked if he had a plan to do it.
He planned on “sneaking a knife into my backpack and going to the bathroom and killing myself,” the boy allegedly told the principal and counselor, adding that he’d brought a plastic knife from home and put it in his lunchbox.
Before he went to HBH, the boy reportedly said he tried to hang himself with a sock but it wasn’t strong enough.
Paul’s father picked him up from school that day and said he planned to take the boy to his psychiatrist and therapist that Friday.
The complaint alleges that later that same day, Muniz sent an email to all school staff about Paul’s safety plan.
The email, as rendered in the complaint, says that Paul’s entire class would have fewer bathroom visits during classroom time. Paul’s teacher had designated a “hallway partner” for Paul in case of a bathroom emergency.
“If you see Paul in the hallway unsupervised you need to escort him back to his class and let (his teacher) or myself … know IMMEDIATELY,” says the email. Anyone needing help with Paul should radio for help.
“DO NOT USE THE STUDENT’S NAME OVER THE WALKIE only call for assistance and request it immediately,” said the email, according to the complaint.
A Special Course Of Action
Paul’s parents asked the district to evaluate whether Paul was eligible for an individualized education program (IEP) under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
Those evaluations happened in early November 2022, says the complaint, adding that a Nov. 11, 2022, evaluation report identified numerous educational, emotional and functional challenges with which Paul struggled at school.
The district’s IEP team reportedly planned to review these evaluations in a Dec. 14, 2022, meeting.
Take This From Me
Nine days before the scheduled meeting at 9 a.m., a teacher saw Paul alone in the hallway and asked if he was OK.
“No, I want to kill myself,” said the boy, allegedly.
The teacher asked what she could do to help Paul.
“Here take this from me,” said the boy, pulling a knife from his backpack.
Sent to the principal and school counselor once again, the boy allegedly said, “I want to cut my throat with it.”
The superintendent filed a petition for expulsion with the Laramie County School District No. 2 board that day over the boy having brought a kitchen knife — a deadly weapon — to school, the complaint alleges.
A Federal Mandate
The complaint says the federal IDEA required the school to convene a review of Paul’s special education plan file to consider whether his conduct had a direct and substantial relationship to the disability identified.
The district did not convene that review meeting, the complaint says.
“Instead of recognizing that Paul’s behavior was due to his disabilities and providing him mental health services and support to address his disability related needs, the School District suspended Paul and pursued his expulsion,” says the document.
The complaint says Paul’s parents eventually agreed to waive the boy’s “right to a hearing for expulsion” in exchange for the boy being reinstated at school, on a probationary status. The agreement let the school suspend Paul for 10 days while he in turn was required to comply with a number of conditions.
Call The Parents
By Dec. 16, 2022, Paul’s IEP met and determined that the boy was eligible for an IEP, due to having an emotional disability, specific learning disability and ADHD.
Those involved agreed that Paul’s safety plan would remain in place. Also, the boy had to check in with the school counselor every morning to have his backpack and pockets checked; and teachers would check with Paul throughout the day to assess his depression and anxiety on a scale of 1 to 10, says the complaint.
If Paul was more than a 5 on the scale, the school was to contact his parents and the counselor, the document says.
“Muniz emailed school staff about this plan” on a Sunday evening in December, the complaint adds.
The parents are claiming that the district didn’t comply with its own safety plan.
An assessment team on Jan. 4 developed the boy’s individualized education plan, acknowledging that his disability affected his involvement in his education. The complaint says the plan didn’t provide for how the boy’s emotional disability impacted his ability to access education, however.
The plan had reading and handwriting improvement goals, as well as one self-help goal by which Paul was expected to demonstrate coping strategies amid negative emotions, says the document.
In The Heart Of Winter
On Jan. 9, 2023 — one of the darkest and coldest days of the Wyoming calendar — Paul went to school as usual and started Ms. Giordano’s band class at 10:10 a.m.
There were nine students in the class, the complaint says.
District surveillance video allegedly shows Paul leaving the music room alone at 10:42 a.m., walking down the hallway alone and entering the bathroom alone.
“The entire length of the hallway is empty,” the document says.
Band class was set to end eight minutes later at 10:50, followed by a 10-minute passing period and then an 11 a.m. lunch period.
Other students trickled out of the band room at 10:51 a.m., the complaint says. Two minutes later, Giordano reportedly stepped out of the band room and watched several students walk down the hallway, past the bathroom Paul had disappeared into, and out of sight of the surveillance camera.
One minute later she walked down the hallway herself, out of the camera’s pane.
At 10:56, Giordano walked back down the hallway with Paul’s fifth-grade teacher. They briefly paused in front of the bathroom. Giordano appears on the camera to speak some words to Stewart, says the complaint.
The document alleges that Giordano “roll(ed) her head back in frustration and continue(d) back down the hallway toward her classroom” without pausing to peek into the bathroom.
Giordano went into her classroom, then came back out and positioned herself at the doorway with one arm on the door frame and the other arm on her hip, says the complaint.
A Boy, A Sweatshirt
Muniz walked down the hallway at 10:58.
“Ms. Giordano is seen darting back into the music room,” the complaint says.
Giordano reemerged, and the fifth grade teacher said something to the music teacher.
Then the fifth grade teacher walked back to the bathroom and looked inside.
“(She) appears to see Paul’s limp body, and then runs down the hallway to call 911,” the complaint relates from the video.
“Ms. Giordano darts back into the music room,” adds the document.
The surveillance video ends at 11 a.m.
The complaint says Muniz entered the bathroom, saw Paul’s feet on the floor facing the toilet and looked over the stall door.
The boy was hanging by his sweatshirt on the coat hook, unresponsive.
Muniz checked for a pulse and started performing CPR on Paul, says the complaint.
Paramedics arrived at 11:25 a.m. A helicopter took the boy to Cheyenne Regional Medical Center, 34 miles away.
The boy was later flown to the Children’s Hospital in Denver, Colorado.
He never regained consciousness and died Jan. 12, three days after hanging himself.
‘That Was A Lie’
Laramie County Sheriff’s deputies investigated the boy’s death and interviewed Muniz, Giordano and other employees.
Deputy Warren interviewed Giordano on Jan. 9, the day of the hanging.
The complaint alleges that Giordano told Warren that Paul left her classroom after class was over at 10:50, along with the other students.
“That was a lie,” the complaint says.
Giordano reportedly said she thought Paul had gone to the bathroom and would come back to class to get his things. The Pines allege this was proof the teacher knew the boy had gone to the bathroom, and yet didn’t go in there looking for him.
Giordano reportedly said she told Muniz the boy was in the bathroom by himself, which the plaintiffs claim is a lie.
“Ms. Giordano hid in her classroom when it became apparent that Paul was in the bathroom alone,” the complaint alleges.
Giordano reportedly admitted she knew about Paul’s safety plan.
Another deputy interviewed Giordano Jan. 23, 11 days after the boy died.
In that interview, Giordano allegedly denied being told of Paul’s safety plan by email.
The Pines say she was a recipient on the email.
The complaint alleges Muniz told Deputy Warren that Paul was in the bathroom “for no more than five minutes,” when the boy was in the bathroom for 17 minutes before Muniz went in there.
In a Jan. 17 interview with Detective Brownell, Muniz allegedly denied there was a safety plan in place for Paul.
Brownell interviewed other school staff, yielding conflicting statements about teachers’ knowledge of the safety plan or whether there was a safety plan in place for Paul, says the complaint.
Some staffers said Muniz had sent them a safety plan and that Paul was never to be unsupervised, the document relates.
Clair McFarland can be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.