A $300,000 verdict has been rendered against the Bainbridge Island School District for failing to protect a special needs student from aggressive bullying and sexual harassment.
The lawsuit filed on behalf of B.W. in Kitsap Superior Court in 2010 by the law firm of Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala PLLC, outlined months of intense bullying and sexual harassment that went disregarded by administrators at the Bainbridge High School.
A judge has ruled that the Bainbridge Island School District was negligent when it failed stop the sexual harassment and bullying of a former special needs student at Bainbridge High School. Retired Judge Terrence Carroll found for the plaintiffs, Jan and Jay Webster, and their son B.W., as he was identified throughout the litigation, and awarded $300,000 in damages for the district’s failure to protect the then 14-year-old disabled high school freshman.
The Websters filed suit in 2010 seeking to hold the school district accountable for its inability and unwillingness to stop a pattern of sexually harassing assaults and bullying by several of B.W.’s fellow Bainbridge High students.
In a written opinion, Judge Carroll agreed with the plaintiffs, “It is rather painfully obvious that the disruption and chaos that this family suffered was to a large degree a direct result of the negligence of the school district.”
As the Judge made clear in his ruling, the school district dropped the ball. As the court documents show, B.W.’s abuse only ended when his parents got fed up with the school’s inaction, obtained a restraining order, and contacted the Bainbridge Island Police. Bainbridge Island Police immediately launched an investigation and ultimately arrested and charged four male high school students back in 2007 for the harassment. All four were found guilty of criminal conduct related to B.W.’s bullying.
Court documents further indicated the parents of the student had made multiple requests for the school administrators to intervene and a concerned teacher even emailed the vice-principals and principal to place them on direct notice of the abuse.
“This is an important verdict for families with disabled children in the public school system,” said plaintiffs’ lead trial attorney Tom Vertetis. “This sends a clear message that bullying of any children, let alone our most vulnerable children is clearly unacceptable. The criminal trial of one of the perpetrators indicated the victim was bullied over 75 times with separate incidents of harassment.
According to court documents, the harassment included exposed genitals, sexualized contact, cyber-bulling and verbal harassment. As a result, B.W. who lives with Asperger’s Syndrome, required years of therapy and anti-anxiety medication.
“The attitude of the school district that this type of student victimization happens elsewhere, but not on Bainbridge Island created an environment where the severity of the incidents were downplayed and in some cases completely ignored,” Vertetis said. “If our schools refuse to acknowledge the reality that sexual harassment and bullying happens on campus, our most vulnerable kids will continue to be harmed.”
Documents from the Case