Family files lawsuit over silly string fight

Kelsey Zell (Plaintiff) and her father, Mark Zell.

RICHMOND, R.I. (WPRI) — The parents of a former high school student have filed a federal lawsuit against a Rhode Island school district, several of its employees, and the state, after they say their daughter was assaulted at school.

The incident happened at Chariho Regional High School in October 2015 during a pep rally. According to the court filings, after the plaintiff (referred to as “KZ”) sprayed another female student with aerosol or “silly” string, the other student physically assaulted her, using a cell phone to repeatedly strike “KZ” in the back of the head.

“I felt like a phone kind of hit the back of my head three or four times,” said Kelsey Zell, the plaintiff in this case.

Those injuries have resulted in an ongoing seizure disorder, said Kelsey’s parents, Mark and Beth Zell, in a statement Wednesday.

“One thing that’s very important is the lack of-of medical attention that Kelsey received,” said Mark Zell. “It took hours and hours and it took me intervening to get the situation with her concussion addressed.”

“When you send your child to school, you send them with a sense of confidence that at the very minimum there are adults present to protect them should a situation arise,” Mark Zell added Wednesday.

The lawsuit alleges the altercation resulted in intentional and illegal acts by the school district to discredit “KZ” and cover up “mishandlings” by school employees — and later to develop a falsified version of the incident to avoid accountability.

“We went through the school-based appeal, it went to the superintendent,” said Mark Zell. “When it got to the school committee hearing, there were some statements made by the school’s attorney about how a cell phone is a girl’s best friend, she would never use it as a weapon.”

The superintendent of the Chariho Regional School District, Barry Ricci, wouldn’t discuss individual students with Eyewitness News. Instead, he replied with a statement Wednesday.

For as long as I am Superintendent, there will be one Code of Conduct that applies equally and equitably to all students. There will not be a separate Code for those who plan to go to college. I look forward to court proceedings in this matter where the school district will dispute the claims and statements put forth by the former student, her family and their attorney.

After the suit was filed, Kelsey was given a failing grade in one of her classes, although her performance score showed a different letter grade, which could’ve affected her college admission requirements, the Zells claim.

The lawsuit also alleges Kelsey was suspended from school as a result of the incident.

“I mean really as we went through this, the goal was to get the suspension off of her record so that she wouldn’t have issues when she applied to college,” said Mark Zell.

Kelsey graduated from Chariho this month, and plans to attend college in Alabama in the fall. Even though the Zell’s original purpose for the lawsuit, to get the suspension expunged from Kelsey’s record, has come and gone, they say they aren’t letting “the last two years appealing this through the administrative process” be for nothing.

“We believe that what our daughter has, you know, what our daughter is accused of doing does not warrant the punishment that she received.”

Samantha Sugerman contributed reporting to this story.