Family sues Elkhart schools for wrongful death

·2 min read

Sep. 2—ELKHART — The mother of a middle-schooler who died from suicide is suing Elkhart Community Schools, alleging the district failed to follow its own policies and protocols, leading to her daughter's death.

Rio Allred was a 12-year-old student at North Side Middle School. Her mother, Nicole Ball, alleges she was frequently bullied by students because of her hair loss and sexual orientation.

The bullying started two weeks after Rio started seventh grade; she was diagnosed with alopecia, an autoimmune disease that causes hair loss, just a few months earlier, according to the lawsuit.

She was called "Mr. Clean," "Caillou," "naked mole rat" and "bug-eyed alien," the family alleges in the lawsuit.

The family also alleges that Rio suffered physical abuse. They recounted incidents where they allege that students pulled her wig off, hit her, kicked her out of her chair and choked her, the lawsuit said.

Her family said they reached out to the school on multiple occasions to talk about how Rio was being mistreated but said they aren't aware of an instance where a student was disciplined for the matter.

Nearly two weeks before her death, Rio, her mother, sister, father and stepmother met with a school counselor and a social worker. Her mother provided them the names of several students who had been harassing Rio, along with details of their specific acts of physical and verbal abuse, the lawsuit said.

The family did not hear from the school after the meeting, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges the school district neglected to follow its own policies by now involving a Title IX coordinator or policies on sexual harassment. Title IX is a federal law that ensures equal access to education, but a hostile learning environment can deny a student that right.

"Rio had the right to go to school in an environment free from harassment and discrimination based on gender stereotypes or sexual orientation while participating in an educational program or activity which receives federal financial assistance; namely, while attending North Side," the lawsuit said.

Rio died by suicide on March 14.