Family sues elite New York boarding school over teen’s suicide

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An Italian family sued an elite Westchester County boarding school where their 17-year-old son killed himself, accusing officials of keeping the teen in “solitary confinement” after he was expelled for cheating on an assignment.

As reported by the New York Post, exchange student Claudio Mandia was found dead in a room at Ef Academy in Thornwood, New York in February, on the eve of his 18th birthday.

The teen had just been expelled for cheating on a math assignment, and was forced by school officials to stay in a room alone, according to the lawsuit filed in Westchester County Supreme Court on Friday by his father, Mauro Mandia, and another representative of the boy’s estate.

The suit accuses school officials of contributing to Claudio’s death by putting him in solitary confinement while he was emotionally vulnerable, despite knowing that Claudio had been dealing with personal issues that had impacted his school performance.

“It was painfully foreseeable that forcing [Claudio] into solitary confinement, malnourishing him, and inadequately supervising him after delivering the life-altering news that he would be expelled – all while he was enduring the hardships that EF Academy knew about and was treating him for – could result in his tragic death,” the lawsuit states.

The suit alleges wrongful death, negligence, false imprisonment and emotional distress, among other charges against EF Academy, four school officials, its parent company and 20 other unnamed defendants. Claudio’s family is demanding punishment for the school as well as compensation.

A spokesman for the school told NBC News in a statement that the filing contained “multiple inaccurate statements” and disputed the claim that Claudio was “placed in solitary confinement”.

“The narrative that is shared in the legal filing is not accurate or based on fact,” the statement said.

“We are confident that the legal process will allow us to provide and prove a fact-based legal case recounting what actually transpired.”

Mandia and Elisabette Benesatto enrolled their son at EF Academy – which has a whopping tuition of $US66,500 per year for students who live full-time on campus – in the autumn of 2020 after he expressed interest in an international academic experience before attending a university in Italy, according to the suit.

He was accepted to the school’s two-year International Bacculaureate Program.

In his first year at the school, he received relatively good grades – including an “A” in math – and was noted by his teachers as “having a good sense of humour”, being “helpful” and “a very good math student”, according to the suit.

In November 2020, another Italian student who was expelled from the academy also attempted suicide, according to the suit, which notes Claudio was not involved in that incident.

The following year, trouble began for the teenager. He was forced to stay at home in Battipaglia, Italy, after the school’s winter break when several family members contracted Covid-19.

“This caused [Claudio] to fall behind in his academic work, and when [Claudio] did return to campus after being quarantined, he was under a lot of pressure to try and catch up,” the suit alleges.

“Then, less than two weeks after his delayed return to campus, [Claudio] suffered the unexpected loss of a close family member, which upset him terribly and caused him to seek counselling from EF Academy’s in-house social worker Chelsea Lovece,” the suit says.

While Claudio was seeking mental help, he was expelled for plagiarism and placed in solitary confinement on February 14 until his parents could arrive to pick him up.

While he was locked up away from all other students and staff, his meals were delivered right to his room, where trash began to pile up, the suit alleges.

“[Claudio] screamed and cried for help while held in solitary confinement. EF Academy and the individual Defendants callously ignored him,” the suit says.

The day before he was expected to leave the school, he encountered three staffers with visible marks on his neck that indicated a previous suicide attempt.

The following morning, Claudio’s younger sister, who was also a student at the school, then pleaded with Lovece to check on her brother. Lovece told the girl that she had knocked on his door earlier that morning, and that she believed he was asleep when he didn’t answer.

When she checked on him again later that morning, he was found dead.

“EF Academy’s implementation of its solitary confinement protocol, combined with its grossly negligent – and indeed blatantly abusive – handling of [Claudio’s] known risk factors, was truly outrageous and warrants the imposition of punitive damages to ensure such conduct does not ever happen again,” the suit reads.

This article originally appeared on the New York Post and was reproduced with permission

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