Clover Park facing 2 suits over alleged abuse by boy

Staff writerFebruary 5, 2014 

Two lawsuits against the Clover Park School District in Lakewood center on a developmentally disabled boy who was accused in separate sexual incidents with disabled classmates in two Clover Park schools.

In January 2011, Lakewood police investigated a report that the boy, then 13, attempted to rape a girl at Lochburn Middle School. No criminal charges were filed, though records make clear that inappropriate sexual contact took place.

The school district determined the boy’s behavior resulted from his disability and that he “did not know what he was doing,” according to court records obtained by The News Tribune.

The district transferred the boy to Hudtloff Middle School, where he committed a second assault in September 2011 while briefly left unsupervised, according to the records. He was supposed to be under regular monitoring.

William Coats, attorney for the school district, declined to comment to The News Tribune on either of the lawsuits. Clover Park officials also had no comment.

The most recent lawsuit, which involved the first incident, was filed in December. The district has not yet filed its response to that complaint.

Lawyers for the victim in the second incident, which happened months later at Hudtloff, said they learned of the earlier incident only after exploring school records for the Hudtloff case. They now represent the families in both cases.

In August 2013, the Clover Park district and the plaintiffs reached a settlement in the Hudtloff case. Court records show the district was required to pay $275,000.

Lakewood police investigated both incidents, but the boy — described in school records as impulsive and functioning at a very low level of cognitive ability — was never charged in court with a crime. He was, however, referred to a juvenile court program, known as diversion, designed to provide early intervention and rehabilitation to troubled youth.

The plaintiff in the first incident, the one that happened three years ago at Lochburn, is a developmentally disabled girl who was 11 at the time of the alleged assault.

According to the lawsuit filed in Pierce County Superior Court, a 13-year-old special-needs classmate led the girl by the hand from her seat at a Lochburn lunchroom table into the boys’ bathroom. With other students present, the complaint alleges, he raped her.

Attorneys say she reported the attack to school officials, who notified the girl’s mother. According to the lawsuit, school officials acknowledged inappropriate contact but withheld from the girl’s parents details about the incident, an earlier episode of the boy masturbating at school and other behavior problems.

“The school knew (the boy) had to be watched and was a danger to other students,” said Darrell Cochran, the families’ attorney.

The lawsuit stemming from the Lochburn incident accuses the school district of failing to properly monitor students and protect the girl from harm.

Court records say school officials determined the assault of the girl was a manifestation of the boy’s disability and transferred him to Hudtloff. A safety plan developed by the school required constant supervision of the boy during class transitions and bathroom breaks.

The second incident occurred in September 2011. Court records say the victim in the second incident was a 13-year-old disabled boy who was using a school restroom when the same boy accused in the prior incident followed him into the restroom and sexually abused him.

The accused boy had been briefly left in the hallway with other students and was without adult supervision, according to court records.

Cochran said the staff at Hudtloff wasn’t aware of all details of the boy’s prior behavior.

Cochran said a Hudtloff teacher’s aide stated in a deposition that had he known the severity of the sexual history, he would not have let the boy out of his sight.

In the Hudtloff case, the school district’s legal response filed by Coats said that federal special education law restricts a district’s options when a student misbehaves due to a disability. For instance, a student may not be suspended for more than 10 days.

Coats wrote that school districts must educate disabled students in the least restrictive environment possible. Hospitalization or institutionalization are the last options.

If the student is considered a threat to himself or others, a school district may petition an administrative law judge to place the student in an educational setting outside of school.

Following the first incident, the boy was suspended and law enforcement was contacted, court documents say.

The boy has since been enrolled in a school in the Bethel School District.

Bethel Superintendent Tom Seigel said the Spanaway-based district is devoting “significant resources” to assisting the student.

“We are aware of the situation,” Seigel said. “We are doing what is necessary to ensure the safety of all students and the safety of the student himself.”

Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635 debbie.cafazzo@ @DebbieCafazzo

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