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Bainbridge school district won't appeal verdict in bullying case

The Bainbridge Island School District will not appeal a judge's verdict that the district must pay a Bainbridge Island family $300,000 after their special needs son was subjected to multiple incidents of bullying and sexual assault and harassment by four other Bainbridge High students in late 2006 and early 2007.

District officials said they have reviewed retired Superior Court Judge Terrence Carroll’s verdict with legal counsel and insurance officials, and those internal talks wrapped up this week.

"The district wants to acknowledge our mistakes from seven years ago, and move forward in our goals of educating all our students," the district said in a statement Wednesday.

"In responding to the verdict, we want to reiterate that the district is deeply sorry for the events that occurred seven years ago and the impact that it had on the Webster family," the district said.

"We want to ensure that our schools are a safe place for every student. Sexual harassment should never be tolerated and any reports should be dealt with in a prompt and thorough manner. We also acknowledge that our investigatory procedures in 2006 were inadequate."

Thomas Vertetis, the attorney who filed a lawsuit against the school district on behalf of the student and his family, said earlier that the 14-year-old teen was tormented by four schoolmates for a four-month period that started in his freshman year and continued until January 2007.

Vertetis said the teen, who was diagnosed with autism (Asperger syndrome), was subjected to more than 75 incidents of "pervasive sexualized assault, harassment, abuse and bullying."

District officials, however, dispute the claims made by the family that they contacted high school administrators in September and October of 2006 with reports of harassment toward their son.

Officials said they could only find a record of the allegations in a Nov. 9 e-mail from one of the student's teachers.

In his ruling last month, the judge found the district was not deliberately indifferent to the allegations, but was negligent in that district officials had failed to adequately investigate the allegations.

In its statement, the school district also said that criticisms in some recent news reports about the case were "misplaced," but officials admitted that mistakes were made and noted that steps have been taken to prevent other incidents of harassment in island schools.

"The district has revised its policies and procedures and provided training to its staff that specifically addresses harassment, intimidation and bullying," district officials said this week.

The changes include updating policies against sexual harassment, intimidation and bullying; yearly training of staff members that has occurred since 2007; the start of National Unity Day celebrations at BHS, where students and staff wear orange in support of wanting an end to bullying; updates to internal disciplinary processing and tracking procedures; and monthly meetings between the Bainbridge Island Police Department and Bainbridge Island School District to review current concerns.

The district said it has also decided to provide additional training on the investigation of allegations of student harassment.

"The district has arranged for additional training of key staff members in this area in the near future," the district said.

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