MASON CITY – A mother and daughter are suing the Mason City School District after a troubling year at the high school.
Heather Conti and her daughter, Angelina Conti, are co-plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed this month in Cerro Gordo County district court that alleges gross negligence by the Mason City school district. The lawsuit stems from what the Conti’s describe as an on-going bullying saga that started in 2010 and lasted through the Spring of 2011.
(PHOTO: Heather Conti leans on a tree in her front yard on Mason City’s south side, describing the ordeal her daughter suffered through at the hands of classmates. The family’s house is for sale. They want to move out of town and pull their 13 year-old son, Nick, out of the Mason City Schools due to concerns about bullying and the general atmosphere in the school system.)
Angelina, then a sophomore at Mason City High School, had just moved to Mason City from Texas with her family. According to her mother, Heather, and her father, Andrew, everything was fine at her new school in the beginning. “We had no problems, everything was just fine,” Andrew said. Angelina, who could be described as the “new girl” at the school, had made the volleyball team right away and seemed to be enjoying school, her parents said. They described Angelina as a happy teen, attractive, athletic, even a dirt bike champion back in Texas.
Then, that October, Angelina was riding in a car with a friend. They were out toilet-papering houses as some teens do during the fall months in Mason City. The boy driving the car lost control of the vehicle while adjusting an iPod and slammed into a pole next to the road. Angelina was not wearing a seat belt, and she was propelled into the windshield, face first. Angelina’s left knee was also injured in the accident.
Angelina needed facial reconstruction surgery. “The doctors did a great job,” Andrew said.
(PHOTO: Angelina, today, on left. On the right, Angelina immediately after car accident. Photos used with permission of parents.)
But upon her return to school after the accident, Angelina noticed a change in several of her classmates. “They started in right away,” Heather said. Angelina was about to undergo the surgeries to help repair scarring and damage from the accident. Some students, the lawsuit alleges, began to pick up on Angelina’s appearance and proceeded to bully, harass and intimidate her at school.
Names such as “scarface” were muttered in hallways and classrooms. She was also called a “whore” due to the perceived circumstances by students of the car accident.
The Contis claim that they met with school officials early on, starting in the Fall of 2010, and as the bullying escalated “through verbal and physical acts.”
“They pretty much did nothing, were never prepared for our meetings,” Andrew and Heather said. “She was in a class with some of the girls. They were on her in that class, which she was never pulled out of.”
The bullies, the Contis said, were led by a “former friend.” Other female classmates were involved.
(PHOTO: Andrew Conti stands in his front yard, describing how he and his wife, Heather, attempted to pry their daughter, Angelina, out of a cycle of bullying at the hands of classmates while working through the Mason City School District.)
The bullying at school spread to Facebook and threats of violence in the Spring of 2011. The lawsuit states that a video was posted to Facebook, where some female classmates threatened violence against Angelina.
The Contis continued to complain to the school district, but nothing was done, the lawsuit alleges. Even after text messages and a phone call which threatened violence, the school district did nothing. Not even police involvement and a harassment charge deterred the abuse.
The only way the Contis could stop the bullying cycle and protect Angelina, Heather and Andy say, was to pull her out of Mason City High School and open-enroll her elsewhere. Angelina just completed her Junior year at Central Springs High School in Manly, where the Contis say “everything went great, just fine. She is very happy there.”
The Contis said that the Mason City School District made the open enrollment “more difficult than it had to be. There were conditions that slowed it down. They wanted to keep the state dollars and not let it go to Manly.”
School districts receive funding from the state level for each student that attends. If a student leaves the district, theoretically, the state dollars follow the student.
School Superintendent Anita Micich said today in a phone interview that “the dollars must follow that child (to the new district they will attend), that is a state law.”
Micich said that she would compare the level of bullying in Mason City Schools to other similar-sized school districts. She also said that any child that is facing a bullying situation can go to any adult at their school and let that adult know. That school employee is trained to bring the child’s concern to the proper school official so that it can be followed through and investigated.
“We never want to see something like this,” Micich said. “We are continuing to work to bring the best service possible to our students.”
The Conti’s lawsuit requests a jury trial. They are represented by Vance Jorgensen of Mason City and Colin Murphy of Clear Lake.