Smith McBroom Reaches $7.6M Settlement Against Sumner-Bonney Lake School District

The Law Office of Smith McBroom is proud to announce we have secured a $7.6 million settlement against Sumner-Bonney Lake School District on behalf of a developmentally disabled girl who was sexually assaulted by a classmate.

As reported in the Seattle Times:

In flickering video captured by a hallway surveillance camera, and entered in evidence as part of the lawsuit, one of the girl’s special-education classmates can be seen holding open the door to a boys bathroom and beckoning her to join him with a wave.

Inside the bathroom, according to the lawsuit filed in Pierce County, the boy sexually assaulted the then-17-year-old girl, who operated at the cognitive level of a 7-year-old. Another student walked in on the incident, captured on Jan. 6, 2020, and reported it immediately to teachers.

The girl’s teachers noted the previous year they had concerns for her personal safety, including “understanding being taken advantage of from someone,” according to school records.

But when school resumed, the district did not have enough paraprofessionals to help shadow the vulnerable disabled student. She also told police that before this incident that happened in January of 2020, the boy had taken her “into the bathroom for sex multiple times since the start of the year.”

Attorney Gregory McBroom, the Seattle lawyer who represented the disabled child and her family, said, “You have teachers saying, ‘We’re concerned about her physical safety,’ but when they’re out of resources, these vulnerable disabled students just need to fend for themselves. That’s not protecting her.” He added, “The culture there is horrible for sexual assault and harassment. This administration is responsible for this.”

The Law Office of Smith McBroom is devoted to protecting these disabled children.

Sumner-Bonney Lake School District has a history of ignoring sexual abuse

Sumner-Bonney Lake School District is no stranger to sexual assault claims. In addition to this case, six separate students have accused former basketball coach Jake Jackson of sexual abuse spanning over several years. This is despite at least two warnings about Jackson’s behavior. Four families have filed notice of taking legal action against the school district over its mishandling of the allegations against Jackson.

Further, according to the Seattle Times:

By the Sumner-Bonney Lake School District’s own count, from October 2016 to March 2020 — a period that encompasses [the disabled child’s] assault claim — 41 Sumner High School students were formally disciplined for sexual misconduct ranging from unwelcome verbal abuse to forceable physical contact against the victim’s will and on-campus sex, according to school district records that became part of the lawsuit.

Overwhelmingly, the school district reduced to short-term suspensions the disciplinary actions against these students instead of imposing the maximum emergency expulsions of up to 10 days, according to the records. That was the case with the boy who is alleged to have assaulted the disabled student.

What is Erin’s Law?

Erin’s Law is named after Erin Merryn, an advocate for child sexual abuse prevention education. Erin’s Law aims to require public schools in various states to implement age-appropriate curricula for students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade to educate them about sexual abuse prevention. The law typically covers topics such as recognizing abuse, understanding boundaries, and reporting abuse to trusted adults.

In Washington, Erin’s Law is known as the “Erin’s Law – Sexual Abuse Prevention” bill. It requires school districts to adopt or develop a sexual abuse prevention instructional program for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. The program must be research-based, age-appropriate, and include information on how to recognize and respond to sexual abuse.

The Seattle Times reports, “In depositions for the lawsuit, Sumner High Principal Kassie Meath and the girl’s special-education teacher both said that the school did not have a sex-education curriculum for special-education students when the incident in the bathroom took place, although it now does.”

As for the disabled student, her aunt notes that the sexual assault has taken a toll on her. “She has trouble sleeping,” her aunt told the Seattle Times. “We’ve tried different medications, meditation, sound machines — anything — to get her sleep patterns OK again. She’s thought of suicide, thought of hurting family members, things she never experienced before.”

The proceeds of the $7.6M settlement will go toward a trust fund for the disabled student’s therapy and other needs as she continues to attempt to move past the sexual assault incident.

We are pleased with the turnout of this case and will continue protecting special needs students like our client to the utmost of our abilities. To schedule a free consultation with one of our Seattle sexual assault attorneys, call our offices or fill out our contact form.