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Family Sues Prestigious Westchester Academy Over Son's Suicide

Claudio Mandia
Claudio Mandia Photo Credit: The Family of Claudio Mandia

The family of a student from Italy who died by suicide at a prestigious New York academy in Westchester County after being disciplined for alleged cheating has filed a lawsuit against the school.

Claudio Mandia, age 17, died in Westchester County around 9:30 a.m., Thursday, Feb. 17 at the EF Academy in Thornwood.

The family's attorney, George Bochetto, said on Tuesday, Nov. 2, the family has filed a civil action in the Westchester County Supreme Court against the academy for the wrongful death of Mandia.

According to the lawsuit, Mandia committed suicide after being forced into solitary confinement against his will for nearly four days after the academy accused him of cheating on a math assignment.

He was found after one of his three sisters who was also a student at the academy, went to the director of mental health services, Chelsea Lovece, concerned that she'd not heard from her brother, the suit states.

The lawsuit says the sister was told by Lovece that she had stopped by that morning and got no answer and figured he was sleeping. When she went back by the room and went inside she found him hanging from a torn bed sheet tied to the top railing of the bunk bed.

“I was appalled upon learning of the circumstances leading up to this horrific and unnecessary tragedy," said Bochetto. "I am equally horrified at the lack of oversight of private boarding schools in New York State by its Department of Education."

Bochetto says the lawsuit, filed on behalf of the estate of Claudio Mandia, will raise awareness of the horrific conditions and suffering Mandia was subjected to in his final days and moments of life by EF Academy, which represented him, his mother and father that he would be in safe hands while attending the boarding school.

Both of Mandia's parents, Mauro Mandia and Elisabetta Benesatto, who traveled to Westchester County for the filing, begged the academy and the other named defendants by e-mail, telephone, and video call to remove him from solitary confinement and to stop treating him like a criminal to no avail, the lawsuit states. 

The suit also claims that notwithstanding the pleas of Mandia's parents, as well as highly visible ligature marks and injuries (clear indications of attempted suicide) on Claudio’s neck, the academy continued to keep him in solitary confinement without the necessary intervention, counseling, guidance, medical care mental health care and supervision.

“I will fight for sweeping changes to NY law and will assist the family in holding EF Academy fully responsible on all levels for its inhumane treatment of this 17-year-old student in its care," Bochetto added.

In a statement, the academy said "We remain deeply saddened by the tragic passing of Claudio Mandia, and our hearts go out to his family, friends, and our entire school community during this unimaginably difficult time.

The safety of our school community is always our top priority, and we take the physical and mental well-being of our students extremely seriously."

In the statement, the academy claims the filing contains "multiple inaccurate statements."  In particular, the student was awaiting his departure from the school in an unlocked student dorm room, and at no time was he placed in solitary confinement without social interactions or access to other resources and facilities.

"The narrative that is shared in the legal filing is not accurate or based on fact. We are confident that the legal process will allow us to provide and prove a fact-based legal case recounting what actually transpired," the academy added.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages against EF International Academy and its parent company EF Education First as well as several employees.

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