An Italian family has filed a lawsuit against the elite Westchester County boarding school where their 17-year-old son committed suicide, accusing officials of keeping him in “solitary confinement” after he was expelled for cheating on an assignment.
Claudio Mandia, an exchange student, was discovered dead in a room at EF Academy in Thornwood in February after hanging himself on the eve of his 18th birthday.
According to a lawsuit filed on Friday in Westchester County Supreme Court by his father, Mauro Mandia, and another representative of the boy’s estate, the teen had just been expelled for cheating on a math assignment and was forced by school officials to stay in a room alone.
The lawsuit claims that school officials contributed to Claudio’s death by placing him in solitary confinement when 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 other hardships that EF Academy knew about and was treating him for – could result in his tragic death,” the lawsuit states.
The suit accuses EF Academy, four school officials, its parent company, and 20 other unnamed defendants of wrongful death, negligence, false imprisonment, and emotional distress, among other things. Claudio’s family is seeking both punishment and restitution from the school.
In a statement, a school spokesperson told NBC News that the filling contained “multiple inaccurate statements” and denied 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.”
According to the suit, Mandia and Elisabetta Benesatto enrolled their son in the fall of 2020 at EF Academy — which has a whopping tuition of $66,500 per year for students who live full-time on campus — after he expressed interest in an international academic experience before attending a university in Italy. He was accepted into the two-year International Baccalaureate Program at the school.
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 humor,” “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 after 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 counseling from EF Academy’s in-house social worker Chelsea Lovece,” the suit says.
Claudio was expelled for plagiarism and placed in solitary confinement on Feb. 14 until his parents arrived to pick him up.
The suit claims that 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.
“[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.
Claudio’s younger sister, who was also a student at the school, begged Lovece to check on her brother the next morning. Lovece explained to the girl that she had knocked on his door earlier that morning and assumed he was asleep because he didn’t answer.
He was discovered dead later that morning when she checked on him again.
“EF Academy’s implementation of its solitary confinement protocol, combined with its grossly negligent – and indeed blatantly abusive – handling of [Claudio] known risk factors, was truly outrageous and warrants the imposition of punitive damages to ensure such conduct does not ever happen again.”