A former Newport Heights Elementary School student who was sexually harassed by other students when she was 7 years old will receive $192,500...
A former Newport Heights Elementary School student who was sexually harassed by other students when she was 7 years old will receive $192,500 in a settlement with the Bellevue School District.
The amount is the highest in Washington state awarded to a student sexually harassed by another student, said Yvonne Kinoshita Ward, the girl’s attorney.
“Our allegation was that [the school] violated laws, and one of the most important outcomes of all this is that [the school] finally started fixing things because of this lawsuit,” Ward said. “According to state law, sexual harassment is not to be tolerated, and is subject to a disciplinary process if it happens.”
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School officials were not available for comment Friday because of the Veterans Day holiday.
The harassment began in September 1998, shortly after the girl began school at Newport Heights, said her mother, Barbara Crittenden.
A group of boys began bullying the girl shortly after they found out she had failed a hearing test. The boys drew naked pictures of the girl, teased her with sexual innuendoes on the playground and told her that if she came to a Valentine’s Day party, they were going to have sex with her, Crittenden said.
At one point, Crittenden said, her daughter was told by a school counselor to stop tattling and to deal with the problems herself.
Her daughter continued to tell her mother what was happening. Crittenden said she tried to get school officials to investigate but that her complaints went ignored and unanswered.
The harassment continued until February 1999 when Crittenden put her daughter into a private school.
The Crittendens filed the lawsuit in December 2001, and both sides agreed to the settlement during mediation hearings held earlier this year. The settlement was approved by King County Superior Court Judge Sharon Armstrong Nov. 2, and Ward received notice of the settlement earlier this week.
The settlement will be put into a trust fund that the girl will have access to when she is 25, Crittenden said.
The settlement is vindication for the family, she said.
“This didn’t start off with us wanting to sue for money,” Crittenden said.
“We wanted to force the school to follow the laws. When we came forward to report something was happening to my daughter, they ignored us … they said there was no sexual-harassment policy for elementary-age children.”
School Principal Marian Peiffer said during a court deposition that the school would take different steps if a similar complaint were made today.
The case has increased the school’s awareness about sexual harassment, and the emotional toll that bullying and teasing can cause children, Peiffer testified during the May 2002 deposition.
The school has trained teachers and staff to recognize peer-on-peer sexual harassment, and started a Steps to Respect program to help students better understand what bullying, teasing and sexual harassment means, Peiffer said.
The Crittenden family has since relocated to Spokane, where the girl, now 14, is in high school.
“She’s getting straight A’s and is on the volleyball team and is involved with youth activities at church,” Crittenden said. “I think what helped her is knowing she created some change for the good.
“I think she’ll lead a life being an advocate for those that don’t have any advocates.”
Rachel Tuinstra: 206-515-5637 or email@example.com