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Bainbridge School District responds to discrimination lawsuit

The Bainbridge Island School District acknowledges that a former Bainbridge High School student was sexually harassed by classmates, but denies knowledge of “repeated incidents of malicious harassment” in its response to a lawsuit filed by a Bainbridge family.

Bainbridge residents Jay and Jan Webster, who filed the lawsuit in Kitsap County Superior Court in February, 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.

The district’s response, which was filed April 30, admits that the victim was tormented by classmates between September 2006 and January 2007, but denies the plaintiff’s assertion that the school district “systematically failed to take any action,” resulting in “psychological injury.”

According to Webster family attorney Thomas Vertetis, a Bainbridge High School teacher sent an email to the school’s administrative staff in November 2006 notifying them that the victim had been sexually harassed by another student.

William Coats, attorney for the school district, acknowledges the existence of the email. The student named in the email only attended Bainbridge High School “less than a handful of days” between November 2006 and January 2007, he said. Coats would not say whether the student was suspended from school during that time.

The student named in the email was one of four students arrested, Coats said.

According to the lawsuit, the abuse continued until January 2007 when Jan Webster was granted a protective order from Kitsap County Superior Court, the suit said.

“There’s no question that this issue came to a head in January,” Coats said.

The response denies the plaintiff’s allegation that the boy was a target of “malicious harassment, bullying, sexual assault and indecent exposure” due to his disability.

The district denies the lawsuit’s assertion that Jan Webster contacted Bainbridge High School administration on Sept. 26, Oct. 17, Nov. 9 and Dec. 6, 2006, and that the district failed to take any action once notified of the abuse.

Vertetis was not present for those meetings, he said.

The district admits that four students were arrested, three of whom pled guilty in juvenile court to reduced charges of indecent exposure, and that the incidents became public at that time.

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.

The allegations of the lawsuit are based on the testimony of the four juveniles who were arrested, Vertetis said.

“It’s pretty clear from the district’s answer that they’re going to attempt to try and have the case moved into more of an administrative hearing rather than a courtroom setting.”

The district’s affirmative defenses suggest that the district will push for the case to be heard in an administrative court rather than a superior court, Vertetis said.

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.

“There was a responsibility at school that kids are safe on school grounds during school hours,” Vertitis said. “It’s no different than if someone had tried to physically beat (him) up in the middle of the quad.”

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