A few weeks ago, I went to court to find out the terms of the settlement agreement the town of South Hadley reached with the family of Phoebe Prince. After Phoebe’s suicide was linked to bullying at South Hadley High School, her parents brought a complaint with the Massachusetts Committee Against Discrimination over the school’s failure to stop the harassment. The town settled, on behalf of the school district, while both sides agreed not to disclose how much was paid out.
No one really defended the nondisclosure agreement in court. Through their lawyer, the Prince family declined to appeal. The lawyer for South Hadley said that it was the town’s insurer, not him, who had negotiated the settlement, and that he’d turn it over if he was ordered to do so. A judge ruled last week that the public did indeed have a right to know the terms of the settlement, under the Massachusetts public records act. She gave South Hadley time to appeal. Today, the town released the settlement instead. Here it is (187KB PDF).
The Prince family received $225,000—not that much, as these things go, though the settlement spared them the time and expense of going to court. In exchange, the family agreed not to sue South Hadley again in any way connected to Phoebe’s death. They also agreed not to disclose the settlement’s terms. However, “a representative of the South Hadley Public Schools” could communicate the information. This is a little mysterious, but it suggests that it was the school district or the insurance company, rather than the Prince family, which wanted the settlement to remain secret. In any case, the settlement also includes a gag order. Phoebe’s parents agreed that if the settlement became public, the only public comment they would give would be to say that “the matter has been resolved.”
Thanks to William Newman of the ACLU of Western Massachusetts for representing me and to the Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic at Yale Law School (where I’m a fellow) for help with legal research.