Their son has always been big for his age — by one account, the now 12-year-old boy looks like he’s the size of a sophomore in high school.
Despite his stature, the boy was the victim of a bizarre case of bullying two years ago, according to a lawsuit filed by his parents, Edward Birckhead and Pei Chun Chen.
A then fellow fourth-grader at Prairie Lane Elementary School stuck the needle of a bike pump into the boy’s ear, pressed down on the plunger and left his victim in hysterics — shrieking from the ringing in his ears.
Now, the boy’s parents have sued the Westside Community Schools — alleging that they had complained to school officials that their son was being bullied but Westside administrators didn’t separate the two before the May 2016 bike-pump incident.
In a demand letter, the parents asked the school district to pay them $100,000 in damages — saying that their son still suffers from tinnitus (ringing in the ear), a recessed ear drum, hearing loss, anguish and embarrassment.
Brandi Petersen, a Westside spokeswoman, said the district had yet to be served with the lawsuit. Court records show the district did receive the parents’ demand letter detailing their claims.
“The district investigated these reports and took action at that time,” Petersen said. She did not elaborate, except to say that the district will defend itself in court.
Richard McGowan, an Omaha attorney representing the boy’s parents, said doctors have determined that the boy suffered permanent hearing damage.
According to court documents and the demand letter:
The then-10-year-old boy had been bullied for “many months” before the May 2016 incident.
In December 2015, the boy’s mom spoke with a counselor at Prairie Lane about the other student’s alleged harassment of her son. About the same time, the boy’s father spoke with his homeroom teacher about placing his son in a different classroom, away from the alleged bully.
“Neither Westside nor any of its employees … acceded” to the request to separate the boys, the lawsuit says.
On May 20, 2016 — one of the last days of the boys’ fourth-grade year — the homeroom teacher left the classroom for a couple of minutes but opened a door between her classroom and another fourth-grade room. That way, her fellow fourth-grade teacher could monitor her room.
“Shortly thereafter,” the lawsuit says, the alleged bully “jammed the air pump in (victim’s) ear, blew air out of the pump into (victim’s) ear and then ran towards the front of the classroom.”
The teacher in the adjoining room didn’t intervene or check on the boys, the lawsuit says.
“No teacher or Westside employee entered the classroom for approximately two minutes,” the lawsuit says.
The victim “was left crying in pain on the floor.”
The lawsuit says the teachers had a duty “to protect the students from conditions which interfere with the learning process.”
”This child has suffered permanent hearing damage at the hands of another student,” McGowan said. “He looks forward to showing at trial that Westside’s negligence, as stated in this lawsuit, allowed this to happen.”