Manville schools face lawsuit after trans student takes his own life after alleged bullying

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Myles Fitzpatrick
Myles Fitzpatrick

Myles Fitzpatrick, 17, began transitioning in December 2020 just before school went virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The transgender youth was about to graduate high school in New Jersey in June. Some students bullied Fitzgerald over his gender identity when Manville High School returned to in-person learning last year and it is alleged that the Manville School District neglected the child’s daily transphobic abuse.

A lawsuit has ben filed by Fitzpatrick’s mother on his behalf. Myles Fitzpatrick died by suicide on Nov. 7, 2022. 

Danielle Warshefski, Fitzpatrick’s mother, is suing the school district in Superior Court of Somerset County for failure to mitigate the harm affecting her son’s daily life and safety. 

“Fitzpatrick has been severely injured as a result of such harassment and discrimination that he suffered physical and bodily injuries, severe emotional distress, humiliation, embarrassment, anguish, personal hardship, social disruption, psychological and emotional harm, and other such damages which ultimately led to plaintiff Fitzpatrick taking his life as a result of such harassment and discrimination,” said the lawsuit filed on May 2.

According to the lawsuit, Warshefski is alleging that Manville School District failed to institute or implement the policies in place in accordance with New Jersey Law Against Discrimination Gender Identity and/or Expression Discrimination and Harassment. This includes Manville’s duty to protect Fitzgerald from the harassment, bullying, and discrimination that led to the youth’s suicide. 

“When we look at this case, the system really let Myles down,” R. Daniel Bause, Warshefski’s attorney, said over the phone. “Coming from the perspective of the effects on transgender youth, it does seem to be that they are unfortunately a target in some of these bullying cases across schools within New Jersey.”

The lawsuit is in its very beginning stages. This means that Bause can only share and say so much. 

However, Ethan Dayback, the lead programmer at the Transgender Empowerment Program at the Prevention Resource Network of the Visiting Nurse Association of Central New Jersey, said that the school “has blood on their hands.”

“There’s this false narrative that [school districts] are protecting kids, and they’re killing kids. This is the first step of what I’m sure is many more to come after this. This is not going to be the only trans kid that’s going to hurt themselves or kill themselves,” said Dayback.

For Fitzpatrick, everyday life in his high school was violent rather than safe. 

The lawsuit said the harassment and bullying he experienced involved constant comments and disparaging remarks during the school day concerning Fitzpatrick’s gender identity and status as a transitioning youth. Classmates also tortured Fitzpatrick about his appearance and clothing, reads the lawsuit.

People referred to Fitzpatrick as a “f*****,” and students misgendered him by using “she” pronouns as a form of mockery said the lawsuit. He was subject to other overt derogatory references to his gender identity, including that “he would never be a male.” Moreover, the lawsuit states that students physically bullied the youth in the hallways. Oftentimes, others pushed Fitzpatrick into lockers, kicked and pulled his hair, and threw items at him. 

Many of these attacks would happen in the locker room. Locker rooms, like in Colts Neck schools, are often a subject of debate for trans inequality. However, the focal point is usually on Board of Education members’ discomfort and fear of trans students’ bodies in front of cisgender students. Yet, cisgender students went out of their way to harm Fitzpatrick said the lawsuit. He was also in fear. Manville High School gave Fitzpatrick alternative locker room accommodations. However, the school took the accommodation away without reason, according to the lawsuit. 

“I don’t know if there’s a magic solution, but something has to be done. You know, that’s, that’s kind of how we look at it. And we’re hoping that, you know, this case, would be a part of encouraging that change alongside all these other unfortunate cases. That’s kind of how I see it,” Bause said. 

Fitzpatrick faced a lot of abuse from students, according to the lawsuit, “in the presence of the defendants’ teachers and/or staff members without intervention.” This was in addition to Fitzpatrick’s engagement with self-harm at school and in the presence of teachers. 

This allowance is in direct conflict with the school’s “Harassment, Bullying and Intimidation” webpage, which states: 

“The Manville Board of Education prohibits acts of harassment, intimidation, or bullying of a pupil. A safe and civil environment in school is necessary for pupils to learn and achieve high academic standards. Harassment, intimidation, or bullying, like other disruptive or violent behaviors, is conduct that disrupts both a pupil’s ability to learn and a school’s ability to educate its pupils in a safe and disciplined environment. Since pupils learn by example, school administrators, faculty, staff and volunteers should be commended for demonstrating appropriate behavior, treating others with civility and respect, and refusing to tolerate harassment, intimidation, or bullying.”

Fitzpatrick’s self-mutilation was on occasion carried out at school. The lawsuit states that the student exhibited signs of self-mutilation through bloody sleeves. “Despite such notice, no action was taken by defendants to remedy or address” the situation.

“We have grown adults invalidating the existence of transgender people when we have existed forever,” said Dayback. “With them ignoring people that are getting up and speaking at these [Board of Education] meetings [where] we have to tell the trauma that we have to relive just to explain to these people and to get them to see us as humans. Absolutely, it’s disgusting. I read a f*****g suicide letter from a 16-year-old trans girl at these Board of Ed meetings, and it doesn’t faze them. Not even the slightest bit.”

Lana Leonard
Lana Leonard (they/them) is a graduate from The College of New Jersey with a degree in journalism and professional writing. They work at the GLAAD Media institute and freelance for publications like LGBTQ Nation while working on their journalistic theory of change project: Late Nights with Lana, a talk show based out of 10PRL film studios in Long Branch, NJ. Lana's mission, in all their work, is to focus on people, their collective truths and how those truths form a community of knowledge towards change.