Parents’ lawsuit claims daughter’s school gave her bully its ‘citizenship award’

The parents of one Georgia girl are suing her former school after they say previous efforts to bring attention to a serious issue fell on deaf ears.

Sandra Karampelas spoke to Scope News about the bullying she said her daughter, Sophia, endured at the hands of a peer who was then chosen to receive the school’s “citizenship award” despite multiple previous complaints.

“In spring 2017, while she was a sixth grader at Annunciation Day School in Atlanta, Georgia, Sophia was a victim of targeted and persistent bullying by another class mate that continued up until her last day at ADS,” Karampales said. “During that time, we pleaded with ADS teachers and administration to address the issue.”

Sophia was bullied in several ways, her mother said, including verbally, physically and through the “particularly damaging” method of social isolation and exclusion.

After “several months” of appeals, she said her daughter’s tormentor was placed on “a behavior contract” as part of an investigation into the reports.

She said she was then disturbed to learn that the school rewarded the “offending student with the citizenship award a few weeks later.”

The family has since pulled Sophia out of the school and the rising eighth grader is reportedly thriving in the new environment. But her parents are still locked in an effort to hold her previous school accountable for the distressing situation.

Karampales said she wants “assurance from ADS that they will make the personnel and policy changes necessary to ensure that no other ADS student suffers the same way that Sophia did.”

Instead, she said administrators have continually denied any wrongdoing and defended those involved in apparent violation of the school’s founding mission.

“As a ministry of Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Atlanta, Annunciation Day School claims to provide ‘a loving Christian environment’ for the students,” she said. “The school and Cathedral have the moral obligation to provide a safe and nurturing environment free from bulling and its associated dangers, including suicide.”

Karampales said it has been “painful” for to witness a troubling new side of a school — and church — she once “considered to hold the moral compass” for their family.

She described leaders as “blind” to the fact that “the teachers and administrators involved in this case failed at protecting our daughter Sophia and at teaching the offending student the difference between right and wrong by not implementing the behavioral contract and later giving her the citizenship award.”

According to Karampales, a school source told her that the girl was chosen to receive the award because they “had to give it to someone.”

She said she never intended to involve the court in this complaint, citing “the absurdity of this case and the emotional toll it has taken” on Sophia for the series of events.

The lawsuit, she said, can now serve as “a teachable moment” for her children “to stand up to bullying and to turn a negative into a positive.”

With the case currently active in the Superior Court of DeKalb County, Karampales said she is looking ahead at the positive impact she hopes this ordeal will ultimately have on her family and the community.

“It has been therapeutic for Sophia to be able to share her story, to be heard and to feel that the parties responsible are being held accountable,” she said. “The transition to St. Martin Episcopal School in Brookhaven has been a wonderful and healing experience for Sophia. We want her to grow up to be a confident woman who can stand up for herself and who speaks up when there is injustice.”

She hopes the school and others like it take this experience seriously.

“Most importantly, we hope ADS and any other educators reading this article recognize the important obligation they have in preventing and correcting bullying behavior in schools,” Karampales said.

She also hopes this experience will lead to more parental empowerment, which she said was woefully lacking in her daughter’s case.

“Other than legal action, there is no other recourse for parents,” she said. “There needs to be a way for parents to report malfeasance by private schools that doesn’t involve costly and time-consuming legal action, as that discourages parents to speak up and motivates them to simply walk away quietly from a non-performing school.”

As 11 Alive reported, the breach of contract suit seeks damages including tuition costs and thousands of dollars in legal expenses.

Scope News contacted a school spokesperson who cited legal counsel’s advice not to comment on the unresolved case.

[Featured image: Courtesy/Sandra Karampelas]