The North Kitsap School District is facing another lawsuit from a family alleging negligence after their seven-year-old special needs child was the victim of sexual assault on a bus. The new suit follows on the heels of a $5 million settlement, paid out by the district to several families in November. In that settlement, the families also claimed that their special needs students were sexually assaulted on a district bus.
According to a release from Friedman Rubin, the law firm handling the lawsuit and representing the victim, a seven-year-old girl with cognitive disabilities was sexually assaulted by a 10-year-old boy on the special needs school bus in early December. The boy had been placed on the special needs bus due to ongoing behavioral issues, including fighting with other students.
The two cases appear to mirror each other, as in both cases a student who had demonstrated physically aggressive behavior, was removed from regular NKSD school buses and placed on a special needs school bus. In the 2015 case, no charges were brought against the student.
The family of the victim was alerted to the alleged assaults after a bus driver informed them that the victim’s clothes had been removed during a bus ride. Following another incident of the victim’s clothes being removed, the victim’s family took the victim to an area hospital to be examined for sexual assault and informed the principal of the victim’s school.
Kitsap County Sheriffs were called to investigate the incident and obtained surveillance footage from the school bus, the footage allegedly showed two separate incidents in which the 10-year-old appeared to sexually assault the seven-year-old victim.
“I don’t get this continued practice of doing this,” Cheryl Snow, attorney for the victim’s family said.
Families of the victims in the 2015 case have stated their belief that by not removing paraeducators from school buses, these incidents could have been prevented.
Paraeducators or “paras” work with teachers to support students in the classroom. Many specialize in working with students that have behavioral, cognitive or physical learning disabilities. One of the ways in which paras work with the most vulnerable students is by riding the bus to and from school with them. Due to recent budget cuts and overall cuts in hours for para’s, many have been removed from school buses.
In late September 2019, paraeducators begged the school to restore their hours, during a meeting of the district’s board of directors, citing concerns for student safety on district buses.
When asked if the district had replaced paras on special needs buses, NKSD Superintendent Laurynn Evans said the district was “staffing to need,” and that the placement of paraeducators was dependent upon the Individualized Education Program (IEP) for special education students.
Asked if the district had taken any preventative measures at the advice of legal counsel following the previous lawsuit and subsequent settlement, Evans confirmed that some preventative measures had been taken but refused to provide any details on what those measures were.
“Student safety is our top priority, I understand that people feel that is a cliché comment, but it is something that we truly and genuinely believe,” Evans said in a late November interview, just days before the next assault reportedly occurred on a district bus.
“When we are taking action or making decisions on any part of district operations, the first question we ask is ‘what’s best for kids?’”