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Settlement for bullying victim's parents made public

By Leigh Remizowski, CNN
updated 5:48 PM EST, Wed December 28, 2011
Phoebe Prince, right, committed suicide after being bullied by classmates.
Phoebe Prince, right, committed suicide after being bullied by classmates.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Phoebe Prince's parents receive $225,000 settlement after daughter's 2010 suicide
  • 15-year-old Prince hanged herself in January 2010 after being bullied by classmates
  • Details of settlement made public after reporter sues Massachusetts town for access

(CNN) -- The parents of a 15-year-old Massachusetts high school student who committed suicide after being bullied by her classmates received a nearly quarter-million-dollar settlement, according to documents made public after a months-long attempt to uncover details of the agreement.

The settlement was reached with the town of South Hadley in November of 2010, but it was only made public Tuesday after a reporter successfully sued to gain access to the records.

The reporter, Emily Bazelon from Slate Magazine, filed the public records lawsuit on December 2 with assistance from the American Civil Liberties Union, after first requesting the documents in May.

Superior Court Judge Mary-Lou Rup on Friday ordered the settlement be made public, adding that Bazelon "demonstrated that she, in her role as a news reporter, and the public have a First Amendment right to access the information contained in these settlement documents."

The agreement centers around the case of Phoebe Prince, whose body was found last year hanging in the stairway leading to her family's second-floor apartment.

On the day she died, Prince had endured a torrent of verbal abuse that began at the school library and continued as she walked home from school in tears, according to prosecutors.

Her parents, Anne O'Brien and Jeremy Prince, received the $225,000 settlement sum after filing a complaint with the state's Commission Against Discrimination in 2010, arguing that South Hadley Public Schools failed to address hazing that preceded their daughter's death.

The settlement prohibits Prince's parents from again suing the town over Prince's suicide, but it also binds them to a confidentiality agreement that prevents publicizing details of the agreement.

In a letter written to the Slate reporter on May 9, town officials pointed to a confidentiality clause in the agreement as reason for keeping the record sealed.

"I did not want to violate the trust of the people who entered into it with that confidentiality clause in it," town counsel Edward J. Ryan Jr. told CNN.

Civil rights advocacy groups have since hailed Friday's decision.

"A public document does not become private because the government inserts a confidentiality clause or a nondisclosure clause," said Newman.

According to the court order, public records are defined as "all books, papers, maps, photographs, recorded tapes, financial statements" and other items "made or received by any officer or employee of any agency."

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