Amended lawsuit in Latin School suicide case says school had assessed boy for suicidal ideation

Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune/TNS

The parents of a Latin School of Chicago student filed a second amended complaint on July 24 against the elite Gold Coast private school for allegedly turning a blind eye to the bullying and harassment that preceded the suicide of their 15-year-old son in January 2022.

Among other details, the new complaint says the school assessed Nate Bronstein, son of Robert and Rosellene Bronstein, for suicidal ideation in October 2021, alleging Latin School failed to put a safety plan in place.

The Bronsteins say they learned about the suicidal ideation assessment in April 2023.

After Latin School filed a motion to strike the second amended complaint, Cook County Circuit Judge Scott McKenna on Friday ordered a lawyer for the Bronsteins to remove certain passages and file a third amended complaint.

Latin School’s motion to strike, and a request for a protective order prohibiting the Bronsteins from “any direct communication with any current or former employees of the Latin School” with whom they or their son interacted in the year preceding March 2022, will be heard Sept. 29. In the school’s motion for a protective order, Latin alleges that during a stay in discovery, the Bronsteins contacted certain defendants, offering to negotiate settlements in information exchage, and potential witnesses.

Robert Bronstein said Thursday the family could not comment on Latin’s filings.

The Bronsteins’ amended complaint includes several new witnesses and witness statements, such as that of the school’s former public relations director, who describes the alleged covering up of information and the tarnishing of the Bronsteins’ reputation.

Additional details in the amended complaint allege a pattern exhibited by Latin School of negligence regarding bullying and dismissing concerns of parents, since 2014. In the motion to strike the amended complaint, as “rife with immaterial and surplus allegations that have no relevance,” a lawyer for the school wrote that events that occurred before or after Nate attended served only to “discredit and harass the Defendants.”

Latin School spokesperson Landy Daniels said in an emailed statement Wednesday, “We remain heartbroken for the Bronstein family — their pain and grief are unfathomable.” The school is limited in what it can say due to the pending litigation, said Daniels, who also said that the Bronsteins’ allegations are “incomplete and misleading.”

“Contrary to their unfounded claims, the Latin School of Chicago acted diligently, compassionately, and responsibly in its interactions with the family while they were part of our school community,” Daniels said.

The original wrongful death lawsuit was filed in April 2022 and a separate suit was filed in June 2023, after the school refused to hand over Nate’s full records, which included multiple reports of him being bullied.

The Bronsteins said it was after the Chicago Tribune’s reporting in June that Latin School agreed to give them Nate’s full file. They said they had been asking repeatedly since April.

The initial suit alleges that near the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year, a student at the school, whose parents are named in the initial lawsuit, spread a false rumor that Nate was unvaccinated.

According to the Bronsteins, though Nate was vaccinated, he was harassed about his perceived vaccination status. According to the lawsuit, Nate had transferred to Latin from Francis Parker School in Lincoln Park because Latin offered in-person learning during that period of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the initial lawsuit, the bullying escalated as junior varsity basketball team members at Latin cyberbullied Nate in a group chat and the social media app Snapchat.

The second amended complaint claims that Latin School blamed Nate for its failure to contact the Bronsteins, suggesting that Nate “advised” Dean of Students Bridget Hennessy not to contact them when he reported cyberbullying on Dec. 12, 2021.

The Bronsteins’ new complaint says that’s a “highly suspect claim.”

“Latin cannot blame the deceased minor for its failure to do its job,” the complaint says.

McKenna said Friday that while he wasn’t willing to strike the second amended complaint in its entirety, as the school sought, certain portions did not pass “procedural muster,” in that there was no fair way for defendants to answer.

The Bronsteins allege that Hennessy, in consultation with other defendants, such as the Upper School Director Kristine Von Ogden, made the decision not to contact them.

The Bronsteins said they are unable to grasp why Hennessy and counselor Anneliese Kranz didn’t do more to help their son. Even if Nate was not “at risk” or in need of a safety plan, they said, Illinois School Code’s Bullying Prevention statute (the “Anti-Bullying Law”) requires that all schools in Illinois have a policy and implement procedures to promptly inform parents or guardians of all students involved in an alleged incident of bullying and to promptly investigate and address all reports of bullying.

The Bronsteins say their amended complaint demonstrates that “Latin turned a cyberbullying story into a suicide story by its refusal to act.”

“A few hours after he reported the cyberbullying and was cyberbullied following his report, he was researching suicide,” Robert Bronstein said.

Following Nate’s death, the suit says, the family was in a state of shock and deep grief, struggling to understand what could have driven Nate to such desperation.

“But Latin (and its agents) already knew — not only had Nate been cyberbullied in his last days at Latin, but Nate had also reported cyberbullying to Bridget Hennessy (a dean of students) only to have her disregard his report of cyberbullying and declared it instead, a social media incident that Nate brought on himself,” the amended lawsuit says.

In 2021, shortly after the bullying allegedly began and before she knew about it, Rosellene Bronstein said she communicated with a school counselor about Nate.

At one point, she told the counselor she believed her son might hurt himself and asked for a recommendation for a psychiatrist, the initial lawsuit stated.

“I had given the school notice far in advance that I was concerned about my son’s behaviors and the state of his mental health and I was seeing that he was not his normal self at home,” she said. “And the fact that he was being attacked on Snapchat and a text thread and he goes to an adult at the school to say I need help, you would think that would be a bigger red flag for them to say, ‘We need to circle back with the parents and tell them this is going on too.’”

Daniels, the Latin School’s spokesperson said, “We are confident that the facts and law will show that the allegations are without merit, and we look forward to addressing this matter in the appropriate forum — which is the court of law.

“As we have for more than 135 years, the Latin School of Chicago stands by our sustained commitment to ensuring the safety and well-being of the students in our care, and to our mission of providing a rigorous and innovative educational program in a community that embraces the diversity of people, cultures, and ideas.”

On Friday, McKenna also struck the $100 million sum the Bronsteins were seeking from Latin School in the second amended complaint because he said the amount did not comport with procedural rules in Cook County. A spokesperson said the court could not clarify the relevant rule, given the pending nature of the case.

The school’s motion to strike the amended complaint says that the amount is in violation of the Illinois code and is being claimed: “to sensationalize this case for the internet.”

In 2022, the Bronsteins formed The Bronstein Family Foundation, which “works to keep kids safe online and to stop cyberbullying of teens and children through education, advocacy, lawmaking, and legal support,” according to State of Illinois records.

“We are committed to donating 100% of any proceeds of litigation to charitable causes that protect kids online,” Robert Bronstein told the Tribune.

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