By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A Wisconsin judge is trying to sort through a bitter lawsuit alleging school officials came down too hard on a group of Crivitz girls basketball players accused of cyberbullying a teammate two years ago.
The case illustrates the impact cyberbullying can have a small community, turning families against one another. Court documents paint a harsh picture of a feud complete with allegations of jealousy over playing time, angry online gossip from parents and an attempt to recall the alleged victim’s father from the school board.
Cyberbullying has been on the rise over the last decade as electronic devices have become more prevalent in children’s lives. Survey data from the Cyberbullying Research Center shows an average of one out of every four middle and high school students has reported being a cyberbullying victim between 2007 and last year.
“As adults we’re role models for our kids,” said Justin Patchin, a UW-Eau Claire criminal justice professor who co-founded the Cyberbullying Research Center, which tracks cyberbullying among adolescents nationally. “If we can’t act responsibly, how can we expect our kids to do so?”
The case in Crivitz, a village of 975 people about 50 miles north of Green Bay, began in February 2014. It centers on then-junior Sophia Dama, the daughter of assistant girls basketball coach and school board president Mike Dama.
According to court filings, Sophia Dama was changing in the high school locker room with three other juniors. One of the girls, Victoria Neuman, took cellphone videos of two of the girls, Brianna Kopp and Jenifer Kempka, sitting on the toilet. Sophia Dama later told her father that Neuman took a picture of her dressing in a stall and filmed Kempka dancing in a thong and placing her buttocks on Sophia Dama’s head.
Mike Dama complained to school officials. They ultimately suspended the three girls for the rest of the basketball season.
The girls sued that November, alleging the punishment was too severe. They also accused Mike Dama and Kam Dama, Sophia’s mother, of defaming them for remarks that included Facebook posts. And they said Sophia Dama had exaggerated the incident.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages and apologies.
Jennifer Barwinski, an attorney representing the Damas and the school district, has countered the girls are using the lawsuit to harass the Damas, and disputed any defamatory remarks.
All four girls graduated in 2015. But the fight continues.
Brianna Kopp’s father, David Kopp, mounted a recall against Mike Dama in August. Mike Dama survived the December election but David Kopp said in a telephone interview he plans to run against Mike Dama himself in 2017. Meanwhile, he has taken to writing about the case in a blog titled “The Truth According to Dave.”
Oconto County Circuit Judge Michael T. Judge earlier dismissed the girls’ allegations that the district and the Damas intentionally inflicted emotional distress on them as well as defamation and conspiracy claims against the Damas this month. The rest of the lawsuit is pending.