The family of an 8-year-old girl with Down syndrome is suing a Washington state school district, alleging that the district, and a bus driver, failed to stop an older student from sexually and physically abusing the girl as the two rode together on a school bus.
KCPQ News reports the suit, filed by Tamaki Law Offices, alleges the student was repeatedly assaulted between September 2013 and March 2014 by a 5th grade male student on a Yakima School District No. 7 bus.
The suit claims that both the district and the bus driver were negligent in failing to protect students properly.
According to a story from the Yakima Herald, the suit, filed on behalf of the girl’s father and an unnamed guardian, is the second such suit to be filed against the the central Washington school district in recent months.
The other suit, filed in December 2014 and still pending, alleges a bus driver failed to intervene in the assault of 13-year-old middle school student.
Tamaki attorney Bryan Smith said the two suits are indicative of a troubling pattern.
“We believe this problem of a lack of supervision on school buses — bullying and assault — is more widespread than what these two lawsuits claim,” Smith said in a news release quoted by the Herald.
According to the most recent lawsuit, the older male student, who is also reported to have severe disabilities, allegedly punched, pinched, and slapped the girl. The family notified the district in March of 2014 when the girl returned home from school with bruises and scratches on her face.
Police documents associated with the case, and reported by KCPQ, indicate investigators were able to recover surveillance video from bus cameras. In at least one video, according to the report, the boy can allegedly be seen manipulating the 8-year-old “like a doll” by grabbing her crotch, kissing her and placing her face in his lap.
The police were reportedly only able to obtain surveillance video from bus rides in February and March of 2014, but the lawsuit indicates “it is believed that the assaults began in September of 2013, when the school year started.”
Other children reportedly noticed the abuse and told the boy to stop but he either did not listen or did not understand them, according to police documents.
Following the incident, the bus driver was put on paid administrative leave and subsequently suspended for two days without pay. It is unclear if he is still employed by the school district. The 11-year-old male student was expelled from school.
The Yakima school district declined to comment on the case specifically, citing a policy against commenting on active litigation.
But Superintendent Elaine Beraza did seek to reassure parents that they need not fear when letting their children ride district buses.
“I think kids are very safe on our buses,” she told the Herald. “We transport a lot of kids a lot of miles, and I think our drivers do a marvelous job.”
The lawsuit seeks an unknown amount in damages.
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