$750,000 settles Mount Tahoma rape allegation

Attorney for former high school student, now 21, says settlement should send message to school district

debbie.cafazzo@thenewstribune.comApril 28, 2014 

A former Mount Tahoma High School special-needs student has received a $750,000 settlement from Tacoma Public Schools, based on allegations she was raped in a high school restroom by a fellow special-needs student.

The incident occurred in March 2012, and the girl, who is now 21, filed a lawsuit in federal court last year.

“We are hopeful that this case will send a strong message to the Tacoma School District, and others, about the importance of protecting our kids,” said Nathan Roberts, attorney for the woman.

“We believe we have reached a resolution,” said school district attorney Shannon McMinimee. “The resolution in no way represents an admission of liability by the district or of wrongdoing by Mount Tahoma administration.”

Police investigated the incident, but the boy involved was never charged with a crime in connection with it, both attorneys said. Police said they were unable to determine from the students’ accounts whether the sexual contact was consensual. The girl, in court documents filed in connection with the lawsuit, said she was forcibly raped.

McMinimee said the settlement would be paid by the Washington Schools Risk Management Pool, an insurance group that includes Tacoma Public Schools as a member.

The amount is well over the original $400,000 the girl asked for in her initial claim for damages. Roberts said the increase was based on additional information gathered during development of the case that showed how concerned teachers were about the boy’s behavior.

The information included emails from one teacher telling other teachers to ensure that the boy not leave their classrooms. The teacher said in one email that the boy was obsessed with the girl. In an email to a school administrator, she said she believed he had a “fatal attraction” to the girl.

The girl claimed in court documents that the boy had been harassing her, that he had been grabbing her in the hallways, and that he was stalking her with texts and phone calls. She said she reported his behavior to her teacher, but that teachers minimized the seriousness of the problem.

Roberts said the school should have had a written safety plan educating school staff members about how to keep the two students separated at school.

“That was never done,” he said.

He said the district also should have issued stronger discipline against the boy when his behavior escalated.

Asked whether the girl’s teacher could have done more to prevent the restroom assault, McMinimee replied: “The district will review the conduct of staff involved to determine if further actions are warranted.”

A paraeducator was assigned to escort the girl around school to keep the boy away from her. School officials spoke with his parents, and they suspended the boy when he threatened another student he believed was dating the girl.

In court documents, the girl said she was friends with the boy but that she had turned down his requests for dates.

Roberts said his client will use some of the settlement money to pay for counseling.

“This is something she is going to live with for the rest of her life,” he said.

But he also said she is trying to move forward, and that she hopes to become a certified nursing assistant.

Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635 debbie.cafazzo@thenewstribune.com

The News Tribune is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service