School Climate & Safety

A Look at Student-on-Student Sex Abuse Verdicts, Settlements

By The Associated Press — May 22, 2017 5 min read
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The Associated Press reviewed verdicts and settlements across the country in lawsuits brought against schools over student-on-student sexual abuse. Here are some notable recent cases:

Honolulu, $5.75 million settlement: This settlement with the state of Hawaii over alleged abuse at the Hawaii School for the Deaf and Blind is the highest known in a student-on-student school sex abuse case, according to Public Justice, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit law firm that tracks such cases. The class-action lawsuit, settled in 2013, contended officials at the only public school in the state for deaf and blind students knew about rapes and sexual abuse among students, failed to do enough to stop them, and orchestrated a cover-up. The state denied the allegations. It said when it settled that it was instituting new procedures at the school.

Miami, $5.25 million jury verdict, later settled for an undisclosed sum: The lawsuit brought against Downtown Miami Charter School alleged that an 11-year-old boy forced a 7-year-old boy to perform oral sex on him in the back seat of a transport van and that school officials failed to stop it from happening again. In testimony shown at the 2014 trial, the little boy said he was assaulted twice more in a bathroom after reporting what happened in the van. The 2nd grader later tried to commit suicide by walking into traffic with his eyes closed. The school said it took prompt, reasonable measures to prevent the children from interacting and argued it was not liable because it could not have foreseen what happened.

Des Plaines, Illinois, $1 million in settlements: Five former students alleged that soccer coaches at Maine West High School allowed rampant inappropriate hazing by team members. Their lawsuit said they were sexually assaulted. Two coaches were fired, and one was charged with misdemeanor hazing and battery but not convicted. While it settled with the students for $200,000 each in November 2016, the school board denied that the district had committed wrongdoing.

Hudson, Michigan, $800,000 jury verdict, later settled for an undisclosed sum: A boy said he was sexually harassed and bullied for years by multiple other students beginning in middle school. During the 9th grade at Hudson High School, according to evidence presented at trial, he was assaulted in a locker room when another student rubbed his penis and scrotum against his neck and face. A jury in 2010 awarded the boy $800,000. Both sides later reached a confidential settlement. A judge overturned the verdict, but the settlement stands.

Bainbridge Island, Washington, $300,000 judge’s verdict: A 15-year-old boy with Asperger’s syndrome was sexually assaulted and harassed dozens of times for months by upperclassmen at Bainbridge High School, according to court documents filed by the boy’s family. The abuse included the older boys doing things such as exposing and rubbing their genitals against him and trying to set his hair on fire, the documents said. It ended only after his parents obtained a restraining order and contacted police. Four boys were convicted of criminal conduct. A judge in 2013 ruled the school was negligent and awarded his family $300,000 in damages. The district issued an apology after trial and said it had changed procedures for investigating such incidents.

Huntsville, Alabama, $200,000 settlement: A federal court in Alabama blocked the case of a 14-year-old girl who said she was used as “rape bait” and assaulted in 2010 in a botched plan to catch a boy suspected of sexual misconduct. Her case did not meet the legal standards to hold the school district liable, the judge wrote, even though he said the plan, devised by a Sparkman Middle School teacher’s aide, was “foolish” and backfired “horribly.” The ruling was successfully contested, and Monroe County Schools in Huntsville ultimately settled the federal lawsuit in 2016.

Republic, Missouri, $185,000: A 7th grader with special needs reported she was sexually assaulted multiple times by a boy at Republic Middle School, and ultimately raped, according to a federal lawsuit. School officials said she was lying, forced her to personally deliver an apology letter to the boy, and expelled her for the rest of the school year, the lawsuit said. The following year, according to the lawsuit, the boy raped her again and school officials again did not believe her. Tests later confirmed the assault. The district denied wrongdoing. The lawsuit settled in 2012 for $185,000, according to The Springfield News-Leader, which sued to get the amount of the settlement.

Shoreline, Washington, $160,000 settlement: A kindergartener said she was sexually assaulted and threatened by boys on the school bus, and her mother complained that the principal at Briarcrest Elementary did not do enough to address it, according to court documents filed in relation to a 2012 settlement with the school district. The principal later expelled the girl, allegedly for inappropriate behavior. The district had argued that its investigation found the girl was not sexually assaulted while in its care. The agreement states that some of the settlement money was to be used for counseling and for tutoring, so the girl could catch up after missing much of her 1st grade year.

Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin, $100,000 settlement: A 9th grader who was deaf and legally blind joined Lincoln High School’s highly successful state champion wrestling team, where elite members of the team subjected him to sexual and verbal abuse, according to a lawsuit filed by his family. When the boy and his mother complained, little was done to stop it, the suit said. At one point, he said he crawled into his locker to get away from a tormenter. The district denied the allegations and argued school officials acted in good faith. Its insurer settled in 2014, something the superintendent said was “in the best interests of all parties.”

San Diego, $105,000 settlement: A kindergartener alleged that a classmate at Green Elementary school performed oral sex on him in a school bathroom and demanded that he reciprocate. A year later, a 1st grader at the same school alleged she was attacked in a bathroom stall by three female students who took turns fondling her. The first incident prompted an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights and, as a result, the district agreed to create guidelines for elementary school principals on how to handle students’ sexual harassment and assault complaints. A lawsuit over the first incident was settled in 2015 for $105,000. A settlement agreement in the second case is pending.

Copyright 2017 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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