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Former student's family files discrimination lawsuit against Bainbridge school district

The family of a former Bainbridge High School student has filed a lawsuit for damages against the school district for “condoning” discrimination against their son.

The plaintiffs, Bainbridge residents Jay and Jan Webster, allege that their son, who has autism, was harassed and sexually assaulted more than 75 times by four high school students between September 2006 and January 2007. They also claim that the district ignored the family’s requests for remedial action.

Bainbridge Island School District Supt. Faith Chapel did not comment on the lawsuit, which was filed Feb. 12 in Kitsap County Superior Court.

William Coats, attorney for the school district, also declined comment.

The district must respond with a written defense within three weeks, said Thomas Vertetis, an attorney for the plaintiffs.

The Webster boy, who was 15 when the harassment began, was a Bainbridge High student during the 2006-2007 academic year.

According to the lawsuit, the boy was a target of “malicious harassment, bullying, sexual assault and indecent exposure” due to his disability, and that the district ignored the abuse and “systematically failed to take any action.”

The four students exposed themselves to him, the suit said, and touched him with their genitalia.

One of the students is a senior at Bainbridge High School, district spokeswoman Pam Keyes said.

The family contacted the school’s administration on four separate occasions between September and December 2006 regarding the bullying, the suit said, but no action was taken and the harassment escalated to “cyber bullying.”

According to the suit, the students posted a demeaning photograph of the boy on MySpace. Jan Webster contacted Bainbridge High Principal Brent Peterson about the incident but no action was taken.

The district’s delayed response to the abuse resulted in serious psychological injury, the plaintiffs allege.

According to the lawsuit, the high school was no longer a safe learning environment for the boy.

In January 2007, Jan Webster petitioned for and was issued a sexual assault protective order by Kitsap County Superior Court, and a criminal investigation began.

The four students were arrested, three of whom pled guilty in juvenile court to reduced charges of indecent exposure.

The other student went to trial in May 2007 and was found guilty of one count of malicious harassment and two counts of indecent exposure.

Due to the psychological injury of abuse, the victim transferred to a school in the Seattle area where he would “feel more secure,” the suit said.

The lawsuit seeks special damages, including those resulting from medical and psychological treatments, as well as general damages, which include physical, mental and emotional injury as a result of the harassment and abuse.

The boy received treatment following the incidents, Vertetis said.

“He is still dealing with it,” he said. “He’s been affected very differently than most people would. He had to change schools and go though counseling.”

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