This story was updated on Jan. 28 to include statements from the former student’s attorneys.
Seattle Public Schools plans to pay nearly half a million dollars to resolve a claim involving a former student who said he spent days in the hospital after his elementary school released him to the wrong parent in 2010.
The former student, then 8 years old, was picked up by his father following an “incident” at the school and “seriously assaulted,” according to the settlement authorization document, which was unanimously approved by the Seattle School Board last week. The father was criminally charged and convicted in the incident, the document says. The claim, according to the district, alleged “both physical and physiological symptoms from the incident.”
The former student, who is still a minor, and his mother filed a claim against the district for damages last March. They will drop the claim in exchange for a $475,000 settlement, pending approval of the deal by King County Superior Court, according to the district. Both parties discussed a resolution in a daylong mediation session at an unknown date.
On Monday, Jan. 27, the student’s attorneys at Seattle Litigation Group sent a statement to The Seattle Times claiming that although the father wasn’t authorized as a contact for the boy, “the school district relied” on him “as a disciplinarian when the school and its teachers had insufficient resources to address (the student’s) neurological disability.” They also argued the student, who is Black, was “regularly singled out for discipline” though he demonstrated the capability to perform well in class.
“Seattle Litigation Group hopes that the Seattle Public Schools will look closely into the history of this incident and reconsider its bias and actions,” the statement said. “The student’s family values the settlement as an opportunity to move forward but feels deep pain for having never received the dignity of an apology.”
The student’s father had multiple felony convictions at the time of the incident, but was still allowed to be in the classroom with students, the attorneys alleged.
Publicly, the district provided few details about the case — including the name of the student’s law firm, and did not immediately provide a copy of the original claim upon request last Friday, Jan. 24. School Board members met in private with the district’s attorneys twice before they approved the settlement. At the public meeting Wednesday, Jan. 22, board member Leslie Harris praised the district for opting to mediate instead of going through “expensive, painful-for-the-victims litigation.” Board President Zachary DeWolf said he couldn’t comment on the case, citing legal restrictions about what he can disclose from executive, or private, sessions.
“It was a difficult settlement that went back and forth, but we do believe that the dollar amount, although high, is warranted in a situation to compensate the family for the injuries that were sustained,” said John Cerqui, the district’s deputy chief legal counsel, at last week’s Board meeting.
SPS will pay for the settlement out of its general fund, which is budgeted to spend just over $1 billion this school year. The legal department’s budget is $6.3 million, according to documents obtained by The Seattle Times. School Board officials are required to approve settlement agreements when they reach or exceed $250,000.
SPS has paid out several large settlements over the years. In Nov. 2018, it paid a former employee $500,000 after she alleged the district’s former athletic director harassed her on the job. Three years earlier, it awarded $249,999.99 — just a penny shy of the number that would have required the School Board’s approval — to a former student who claimed the district failed to address her complaints of sexual misconduct by a teacher.