A Pierce County jury has decided the Clover Park School District owes a developmentally disabled girl more than $754,000 for failing to protect her from a troubled classmate who sexually assaulted her in a school bathroom.
In a verdict handed down last week, the jury also awarded $7,500 each to the parents of the middle school student for damages they suffered as a result of their daughter’s trauma.
The parents sued the district in 2013, contending it knew the boy who attacked their daughter had a history of acting out sexually. The district, they alleged, failed to protect their daughter from him.
“As a result of the district negligence, (the girl) has been traumatized, suffering PTSD, and becoming anxious and withdrawn,” their attorney, Loren Cochran, wrote last month in a trial brief.
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“Additionally, her parents have suffered immense anger, grief and mental anguish at what happened to their daughter on the day she was sexually assaulted at school.”
The district admitted it was negligent in its supervision of the boy, but its attorneys argued at trial that the girl deserved damages of no more than $50,000.
“Given her cognitive ability, it is unlikely the girl experienced many of the psychological issues customarily associated with sexual assault, such as feeling guilty or damaged,” the district’s attorney, William Coats, wrote in his trial brief.
The attack occurred Jan. 28, 2011, at Lochburn Middle School.
The girl, then 11, was having lunch in the school cafeteria when the boy, then 13, pulled her into a bathroom and sexually assaulted her while two other boys watched, court records show.
The boy, also developmentally disabled, later told school officials he’d pulled down the girl’s pants and “touched his private area to her private area,” even as she asked him to stop, the records show.
The girl emerged from the bathroom visibly upset a few minutes later and told a school employee what happened.
Two months before, school officials found the boy in a bathroom engaged in sexual touching with another boy.
As a result of that incident, the 13-year-old boy was prohibited from using student bathrooms and “could only use the nurse’s bathroom under supervision,” court records show.
“The teacher at Lochburn followed this directive when (the boy) left her classroom for bathroom privileges, but there was no plan in place to supervise him during unstructured times, such as lunch and recess,” Coats said in his trial brief.
“When the incident … occurred, there was no apparent supervision of the students, and they were allowed to leave the cafeteria and enter the boys’ bathroom unnoticed.”
Cochran contended the district compounded its negligence by failing to immediately disclose to the girl’s parents the details of the assault or to offer the family counseling services.
Coats countered that the family was offered counseling through a local hospital where the girl was examined, but they did not take advantage of it.
The girl finished out the school year at Lochburn before moving out of state with her family, court records show.
The district transferred the boy to Hudtloff Middle School, where he sexually assaulted a boy while being briefly left unsupervised, court records show. In 2013, the district agreed to pay the victim in that case $275,000 as part of a settlement.
Lakewood police investigated the incidents, but the boy — described in school records as impulsive and of extremely low cognitive ability — was never charged with a crime.
Instead, he was referred to a diversion program designed to provide early intervention and rehabilitation to trouble youth.
A team assembled by the school district determined the boy’s actions in the Lochburn incident were “a manifestation of his disability,” and his expulsion was converted to a short-term suspension.
He’s since left the district and is thought to be living in Montana, court records show.