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Two families sue over assaults at school; separate suit targets bus driver conduct in 2016

PMG FILE PHOTO - Portland Public Schools headquarters at the Robert W. Blanchard Education Service Center.Portland Public Schools will pay out more than $42,000 to the family of a child who was allegedly assaulted by another student at school in 2018.

A settlement agreement released to Pamplin Media Group via a records request indicates the $42,000 payment was the result of negotiations between the school district and Denise Williams, who filed a lawsuit in 2020 on behalf of her child.

The lawsuit indicates Williams had an eighth grader at Boise-Eliot/Humboldt School on March 12, 2018, who was assaulted by another student, identified as "Student A," during a fourth period class. The incident left the eighth-grader with chipped and cracked teeth, and caused her to miss school, along with general anxiety about returning to school, the lawsuit claims.

Williams' complaint alleges the school had inadequate adult supervision, leading to the student's assault and injury.

"PPS condoned a violent and hostile education environment … and failed to take reasonable steps to supervise its students and keep other students safe from Student A," the lawsuit states. Williams initially sought $273,642 from the district.

The school district will also pay attorney's fees to Williams. The settlement stipulates Williams will accept the payment from PPS, while agreeing not to move forward with the lawsuit or any future claims against the district.

An official with PPS said the district has measures in place to monitor student activity and uses a restorative justice approach to conflict. Restorative justice often refers to schools moving away from disciplinary measures like detention or expulsion, instead trying to tackle the source of behavioral problems. It also seeks to repair any harm or damage done.

"We believe in empowering our students to resolve conflicts grounded in restorative justice practices," Brenda Martinek, chief of student support services for PPS, stated. Martinek said PPS has numerous staff who can intervene in conflicts between students.

"PPS employs specialized staff to support student behavior and emotional wellness throughout the school day," Martinek said. "This includes restorative justice specialists, campus safety agents, counselors, social workers and other essential staff who are trained on positive behavior supports and are equipped to create positive social emotional learning opportunities across our schools."

The Williams case is similar to another legal complaint filed in June against PPS, alleging a Faubion K-8 School student was pushed down a flight of stairs at school in 2019 by other students, causing a knee injury. That lawsuit, still pending in court, seeks $425,000 from the district.

SCREENSHOT: PORTLAND PUBLIC SCHOOLS - Faubion School eighth-graders are applauded out of the building on their last day in 2015. A lawsuit against Portland Public Schools alleging an assault at Faubion K-8 is one of several legal claims the district faces.

Bus driver conduct draws new lawsuit against district

The settlement agreement comes as the district faces another lawsuit alleging civil rights violations, that one over a second-grader with special needs whose family claims he was inappropriately restrained by a bus driver in 2016.

In that case, filed in September against PPS and First Student bus transport company, Jamoia Walker alleges a bus driver inappropriately restrained her nephew, K.B., during a bus ride in 2016 after the 7-year-old student lashed out at other kids bullying him. Walker is the legal guardian for her nephew.

K.B. was a student at Pioneer Behavior Program at Buckman Elementary School at the time. The lawsuit describes him as "a Black child with multiple disabilities" including autism, emotional disturbances, behavioral disorders and difficulty communicating with others regarding his emotions. The second-grader was known to have emotional outbursts in response to negative interactions and would sometimes punch, kick, bite, cry, yell and throw objects or run from staff. School staff was versed in calming him down and de-escalating his behavior, according to Walker's complaint.

But the lawsuit alleges video footage from a bus ride on Oct. 4, 2016, shows a driver, John Grappone, "assaulted K.B., pinning K.B.'s 40-pound body against the bus while placing his knee in the small of K.B.'s back and holding K.B.'s arms behind K.B.'s body" after separating K.B. as he tried to fight other students who'd been calling him names.

Following the incident, Grappone called Walker at work to come meet the bus and remove K.B. from the bus immediately, but Walker was too far away. Walker said bus dispatchers sent police to remove the 7-year-old child.

Walker and PPS then agreed to have the boy transported to and from school via taxi, until schools closed to in-person instruction in March 2020.

Walker alleges that prior to the young student's experience riding the bus between September and October 2016, he'd shown improvement while at school. That changed after the ongoing bullying from peers and restraint by the bus driver, leading to intensified outbursts. As a result, he was removed from general education settings.

"K.B.'s school schedule afforded no opportunity for K.B. to interact with non-disabled peers," the lawsuit states.

Videos depicting the incident between the boy and the bus driver were initially withheld from Walker. PPS cited federal student privacy laws.

Walker's lawsuit alleges the district instead reviewed and transcribed the videos for her, but never divulged the restraint incident. It wasn't until around winter 2020, when Walker said K.B. was triggered by being restrained in a similar fashion during horseplay at home, causing an outburst in which the child shouted and cried, "bus driver!" and told his aunt about the incident with Grappone years earlier.

Walker's lawsuit claims excessive force, deliberate indifference, negligence, assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, abuse of a vulnerable person and concealing evidence on behalf of the contracted school bus company and PPS. Her suit seeks an amount not to exceed $500,000, plus attorney's fees and an additional $100,000 in punitive damages.

Martinek confirmed that all PPS school buses are equipped with cameras, and said all drivers "receive a series of required training, including how to keep students safe while on the bus."

"Before the pandemic, drivers had participated in positive behavior support training, which we plan to offer for all bus drivers moving forward," Martinek added.


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