Parents Sue Laramie County School District No. 2 Over Son’s Suicide

Paul and Chandel Pine accuse district and school officials of negligence

Eleven-year-old Paul Pine took his own life in a bathroom at Carpenter Elementary School, pictured above, in January. (Photo via Google Street View)

By Ellen Fike

Special to the Wyoming Truth

A southeastern Wyoming couple is suing Laramie County School District No. 2 (LCSD2) after their son died by suicide at his elementary school in January.

Paul and Chandel Pine filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court on Thursday, alleging negligence by the district, music teacherAmelia Giordano, superintendent Justin Pierantoni and Tyler Muniz, principal of Carpenter Elementary School, in their individual capacities. 

The Pines’ lawsuit claims the defendants were negligent in allowing their 11-year-old son, also named Paul Pine, to go to the bathroom unattended on Jan. 9, where he hanged himself in a stall. It states that Paul, who was known to have “serious emotional disabilities,” was not allowed to leave class or enter the bathroom unattended due to previous threats of suicide.

The Pines accuse Giordano of allowing Paul to use the restroom alone in violation of that school policy. They also argue that despite their son’s having qualified as a person with a disability per the Americans with Disabilities Act, Pierantoni and the school district denied him reasonable accommodations at Carpenter Elementary School, resulting in his death. 

According to the lawsuit, Giordano allegedly lied to a Laramie County Sheriff’s deputy about her knowledge of Paul’s having left the music class alone. She allegedly told police that Paul was in her class when the bell rang to excuse students for their next period—not that he left several minutes before the children were released. 

Pictured here is Paul Pine. His parents, Paul and Chandel Pine, filed a lawsuit on Thursday against Laramie County School District No. 2 and school officials in which they allege negligence.  (Photo via Facebook) 

On Jan. 9, surveillance cameras showed Paul entering the bathroom at 10:42 a.m., with the fifth grade music class letting out eight minutes later. Giordano is seen leaving her classroom at 10:53 a.m. and walking past the bathroom without checking inside for Paul. 

Muniz entered the bathroom just before 11 a.m. and found Paul hanging by his sweatshirt on the stall’s door hook, according to the suit.  

Paul was transported to the Cheyenne Regional Medical Center and later taken to a Denver hospital, but he never regained consciousness. He died on Jan. 12. 

Giordano has been criminally charged with abandoning or endangering a child in Paul’s death, a misdemeanor. She has pleaded not guilty. 

When interviewed by police, Muniz denied there was a safety plan in place for the boy, despite having sent an email to the staff about it. Other school staff reported conflicting knowledge about a safety plan to police.

Attorneys for the Pine family were unavailable for comment on Friday. 

Warning signs 

According to the lawsuit, Paul suffered from “serious” emotional disabilities, including depression, anxiety and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which caused him to “worry excessively, to be withdrawn, to be irritable and to have feelings of being alone and not loved.” 

The lawsuit states that Paul had a history of threatening to take his own life. In October 2022, after a fight with his younger brother, Paul stabbed his thighs with a pencil. When his mother asked him what was wrong, Paul told her that he felt like killing himself and that he had a plan for how to do so. 

“He said he was going to bring a knife to school and go into the bathroom near the music room and stab himself under his ribs…” the lawsuit states. “He explained he planned to commit suicide in that particular bathroom at school because no one goes in there and no one would find him.” 

The Pines immediately took their son to the emergency room, where he was stabilized, given a suicide risk assessment and one day later admitted for inpatient treatment at Highlands Behavioral Health in Littleton, Colorado. 

After Paul was discharged six days later, he and his mother met with Carpenter Elementary School staff to discuss his hospitalization and his return to the classroom. The staff agreed on a safety plan, which meant Paul could not leave any classunaccompanied and could not use any school bathroom alone. 

On Oct. 25, 2022, Paul played a prank on a friend, but was distraught afterward, according to the suit. He went to his desk, took a pen and began stabbing his arms and legs. 

Paul was sent to Muniz’s office, where he and the school counselor performed a suicide risk assessment. They reported Paul was “despondent, withdrawn, tearful and sad.” They asked him whether he was thinking about suicide, and he said he thought about it every time he hurt someone or when he got bullied, the suit states. 

Paul reiterated his plan to sneak into the bathroom and stab himself. He told Muniz and the counselor he had brought a plastic knife from home and placed it in his lunchbox. He also admitted to trying to hang himself with a sock before he was hospitalized.

Paul’s father picked him up from school following the assessment and said he would take his son to a psychiatrist and a therapist later in the week.

Muniz sent an email to all school staff, noting they would increase their supervision for Paul. He was designated a hallway partner, and one of his teachers was tasked with implementingbathroom breaks for Paul’s class.

“If you see Paul in the hallway unsupervised you need to escort him back to his class and let Ms. Stewart or myself…know IMMEDIATELY,” Muniz’s email said.

The Pines requested that LCSD2 conduct a special education evaluation to determine whether Paul was eligible for an individualized education program (IEP). The report found that Paul struggled with numerous educational, emotional and functional challenges at school. A meeting to determine Paul’s eligibility for an IEP was scheduled for Dec. 14, 2022. 

On Dec. 5, 2022, Paul was found alone in the hallway at school by a teacher, who asked if he was OK. He told her he wanted to kill himself. When the teacher asked what she could do to help, he pulled a knife from his backpack and asked her to take it from him, according to the suit. 

Paul was suspended from school for 10 days and a petition for expulsion was filed, due to the boy bringing a “deadly weapon” to school. 

“Instead of recognizing that Paul’s behavior was due to his disabilities…the school district suspended Paul and pursued his expulsion,” the lawsuit states. 

Ultimately, the Pines agreed to waive Paul’s right to a hearing for expulsion in exchange for the boy’s reinstatement at school with probationary status. Under this agreement, Paul would be suspended for 10 days and required to comply with a number of unspecified conditions. 

At a mid-December staff meeting, according to the lawsuit, Paul’s return to school was discussed, and it was agreed his safety plan would stay in place. Additionally, Paul would be required to check in with a teacher daily for a “backpack and pocket check,” and teachers would assess him for depression and anxiety; Muniz informed school staff about this plan the night before Paul returned to school. 

“Upon information and belief, school staff did not implement the safety plan, provide Paul the proper supervision agreed to or needed and did not check in with him to assess the level of his depression and anxiety,” the lawsuit claimed. 

The Pines are seeking unspecified compensatory damages and attorneys’ fees.

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