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Parents sue New Kensington-Arnold School District over daughter's suicide

| Saturday, May 14, 2016, 11:00 p.m.

An Arnold couple claims in a federal lawsuit that the New Kensington-Arnold School District and six school officials did nothing to stop the “severe and pervasive” bullying that they believe led to their daughter's suicide.

Julie and Timothy Krebs say, as a result of three years of bullying, their daughter Destinee, 14, went from an A student to failing and was diagnosed with depression, anxiety and anorexia. The girl hanged herself at home in February 2015, according to the lawsuit filed Friday in Pittsburgh.

The district violated Destinee's rights through “perpetual failures and egregious non-responsiveness to repeated pleas for help and protection from peer harassment and bullying,” the lawsuit alleges.

The suit names the school district as a defendant, as well as Valley Jr./Sr. High School Principal Jon Banko, Assistant Principals Todd Kutchak and Jeffrey Thimons, guidance counselors David Zamperini and Tierra LaPrade-Weaver and Patrick Nee, principal of the former Valley Middle School and now principal at Roy A. Hunt Elementary in the district.

Superintendent John Pallone said Saturday the district takes bullying allegations seriously.

“We review all the information we receive and conduct an internal investigation to determine if there is validity,” he said. “We have all the appropriate measures in place to deal with student issues.

“It was an unfortunate tragedy for that family. I am very sensitive to their loss.”

Zamperini declined to discuss the case. “It's not appropriate for me to comment,” he said.

None of the other defendants could be reached for comment Saturday.

What the suit claims

The Krebs say the district failed to have their daughter evaluated for special education services and failed to follow its policy of promptly investigating and responding to bullying allegations.

They say the bullying began when Destinee started seventh grade in 2012-13, with some students insulting her daily. Eventually, Destinee began to lose weight, and her grades declined. The bullying continued in eighth grade, and Destinee began cutting herself, the lawsuit says.

Julie Krebs contacted Kutchak about the harassment.

“Kutchak advised parents only that this was just something that girls did,” according to the lawsuit.

When Destinee was assaulted by a student in spring 2014, high school officials told her to provide a written summary of each bullying incident to Nee, Kutchak or LaPrade-Weaver.

About a week later, the Krebses were told that it was unlikely the bullying would be addressed with only Destinee's accounts as evidence, the lawsuit says.

“Kutchak instead assured Mrs. Krebs that the district need not act because the ‘troublemakers' would either cease tormenting Destinee or would likely drop out of school by ninth grade.”

Destinee continued to provide bullying reports, but the district did nothing, the lawsuit says.

In Destinee's ninth-grade year, a student assaulted her outside school, breaking her nose and bruising her eye. The student was charged with simple assault, the lawsuit says.

The Krebs met with school officials, and Kutchak said he would tell the students to leave her alone.

During the meeting, Zamperini, a guidance counselor, allegedly “pressed Destinee to admit that she was responsible for the fights and that she had done something wrong to provoke (the other student),” the lawsuit says.

On Feb. 3, 2015, Destinee testified at a court hearing on the assault.

The next day, she left school early. Julie Krebs came home to find a note from her daughter that said, “the pain needs to end.” She found her daughter dead in the garage.

Jodi Weigand is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-226-4702 or jweigand@tribweb.com.

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