Parents sue school system over child’s assault www.privateofficer.com
Two parents have filed a lawsuit against the Coachella Valley Unified School District and Saul Martinez Elementary School, claiming officials did not protect their then-6-year-old son from sexual assault and sexual harassment.
The lawsuit was filed Feb. 9 against Saul Martinez Principal Delia Alvarez, Superintendent Ricardo Medina and the seven school board members by a North Shore mother and father, who filed anonymously as A. Doe and B. Doe to protect their son.
In February 2009, their son was sexually assaulted with a stick by an older male first-grade student while using a Saul Martinez urinal, according to court reports.
More than a month later, school officials gave the victim a “safety net” so he did not have to use the bathroom alone, but the lawsuit states that school and district officials did not contact the aggressor’s parents or do enough to keep their son safe from him.
“We’re hopeful that the school district will take this seriously,” said Megan Beaman Carlson, an attorney with Coachella-based California Rural Legal Assistance, a nonprofit group that provides free legal services to low-income residents. “I think it’s been long enough.”
Medina, who joined the district in May 2009, said he was aware of the situation but not that the lawsuit had been filed.
“Obviously, we’re very disappointed because we’ve been trying to work through the issues and evidently they’ve not been resolved to their satisfaction,” Medina said. “We’re very disappointed that it’s gone to this level.”
Students’ privacy rights prevented him from discussing any details, he said.
District legal counsel and Principal Alvarez did not immediately respond to inquiries about the case.
Policy revision sought
The lawsuit asks for a revision of the district sexual harassment policy and its safety plan and training of all district staff regarding proper implementation of those policies.
The only financial compensation requested in the lawsuit is payment of the petitioners’ legal fees.
It’s possible that the other first-grader didn’t fully understand the consequences of his action because of his age, but the victim still suffered serious consequences from the incident and the school district still had a responsibility to protect students, Beaman Carlson said.
“This was still a situation where a student was assaulted in a sexual manner, whether it was meant sexually or not,” she said.
Immediately after the initial assault, the victim told a security guard, who did nothing but send the child to class, court reports state.
The boy’s mother reported the incident to Alvarez the next day and filed a police report so her son could be seen by a pediatrician specializing in traumatic injuries, according to the court reports.
Alvarez later told the mother “she believed the incident in the bathroom could have just been a game and that the Petitioners’ son was confused,” according to court documents.
The same aggressor threatened the petitioners’ son at other times and pulled the first-grader’s shirt away from his back in the school bathroom on March 6, documents report.
Later that month, the boy was given a “safety net” so a “buddy” accompanied him to the bathroom and a yard supervisor accompanied him during recess.
However, school and district officials did not adequately respond to several pleas to protect or separate the boy from his harasser, the court documents claim.
“We believe that they didn’t contact the family but we’re not sure about that,” Beaman Carlson said. “There’s no way for us to verify that.”
The district and parents had an unsuccessful mediation in July and, in August, the district notified the parents the incident wasn’t properly handled.
The petitioners’ son continues to see a therapist weekly, suffered academically and feared going to school, has trouble using the bathroom without a parent present and often avoids using the school bathroom at all, according to the lawsuit.