A family in the Orting School District has filed a lawsuit alleging that their 6-year-old daughter endured sexual assault, harassment and bullying at school for much of the 2015-16 school year.
The suit, filed Sept. 23 in Pierce County Superior Court, contends the perpetrator of the abuse was a female first-grade classmate.
It also alleges the parents of the girl notified school officials before anything happened that their child was “susceptible to sexual abuse” and was assured she would be protected.
It also says school district employees were informed of the classmate’s “propensity to act out sexually with her peers.”
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Don Austin, the Seattle attorney for the school district, said, “We don’t see the facts the same way as the plaintiff does.” He said more facts will come out through the legal process.
The school district has not yet filed its response to the allegations contained in the lawsuit, Austin said.
The News Tribune is not naming the family so as not to identify their daughter.
The lawsuit claims the Orting School District failed to protect a girl from sexual abuse and failed to report the incidents to law enforcement
The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount of money to compensate the family for “physical, medical and psychological” injuries to the child, as well as for the parents, who were “devastated” by the school district’s failure to act, according to their attorney.
The lawsuit gives this account:
Early in the school year, the family’s daughter began having problems behaving at school.
Her mother met with school administrators and staff members in October to explain to them that the girl had post-traumatic stress disorder, was “susceptible to sexual abuse” and required a safety plan.
The school assured the family it would protect the girl.
The parents were concerned about their daughter “because of a past experience with a neighbor,” said Amanda Searle, the Tacoma attorney representing the family. She declined to further describe that incident or what caused the daughter’s PTSD.
As the school year went on, the daughter’s behavior deteriorated at school and at home, the lawsuit states. The mother told the school her daughter’s new behavior — which included pushing, biting and licking — was uncharacteristic of the child.
When the daughter tried to complain about the other student to teachers, the lawsuit contends she was told not to tattle on others. In January, the suit alleges, a substitute teacher forced the daughter to sit outside in the cold for several minutes with no coat on after she acted out in class.
In June, the mother decided to have lunch with her daughter at school. That’s when the principal told her another parent had told school officials about what allegedly had happened between the two students.
According to the lawsuit, the classmate’s parent informed school officials her daughter revealed she was “having sex” in the bathroom at school, and was doing so with the daughter of the family suing the district.
Austin said the district was not aware of the problem until late in the school year, and that, as soon as officials could, they notified the family of what they had learned.
Searle said the child and her mother met with the principal. Asked whether someone had hurt her, the girl “froze up and began crying uncontrollably,” according to the lawsuit.
She then “covered her face, crawled into (her mom’s) lap in the fetal position and began rocking back and forth.”
The girl since has been moved to another school, and is undergoing counseling.
We don’t see the facts the same way as the plaintiff does
Don Austin, Orting School District attorney
Austin said that as soon as the school learned of the issue, officials “acted on it.” However, the lawsuit contends the school district failed to protect the daughter, and failed to report the incidents to law enforcement.
The Orting Police Department told The News Tribune it has no report about the incident on file.
Asked whether her clients reported the incident either to police or to state Child Protective Services, Searle said she did not know. She said she requested records from the school district. They were scant, she said, and contained no evidence the school district called CPS.
Austin said he did not want to comment on the question.
He said he was reluctant to discuss details contained in the allegations because of the ages of the students and because of student privacy issues.
He also said that, in a situation where both parents were aware of the allegations, the issue of whether the school district had a duty to report them to other agencies could be a “red herring.”