BEAUFORT

$50K settlement reached in lawsuits alleging mistreatment of disabled Beaufort County student

tbarton@beaufortgazette.comJanuary 24, 2013 

COURTESY OF MORGUEFILE.COM

A disabled student and his mother were paid $36,750 as part of an overall $50,000 settlement with the Beaufort County School District, resolving a dispute over mistreatment by school staff.

The parties agreed, however, that the October settlement "is a compromise of a doubtful and disputed claim, and the payments are not to be construed as an admission of liability."

The suits claimed a Broad River Elementary student, identified as John Doe, was molested and sodomized by an unnamed employee or employees and an unnamed student from May through December of 2010.

The suits also alleged the student was frequently secluded and physically restrained as punishment as well as bullied on a school bus.

The allegations of bullying and sexual assault were dropped by the student and his mother -- listed as Jane Doe -- according to court records.

The district's insurer -- the S.C. School Boards Insurance Trust -- then settled the remaining suits that alleged the use of physical restraint and seclusion as punishments, tactics the state Department of Education advises against.

The insurer agreed to immediately pay the woman $36,750 for medical expenses and other injuries she incurred on behalf of her son. Of that amount, $23,500 was to pay for her attorney's fees. It also agreed to pay $13,250 in two lump sums in October 2019 to an annuity policy established in the student's name.

The woman and her son's attorney had asked for $1.5 million, district risk manager Jennifer Staton said.

The S.C. Department of Education, First Student bus company, and Praesidium Inc. -- an abuse risk management firm the district has contracted with in the past -- also were part of the settlement.

Those organizations, along with the Beaufort County Board of Education and the S.C. Board of Education, also were defendants in one or more of the suits.

The settlement absolves the district of all claims and bars all parties from suing again over the matters.

Beaufort County Board of Education chairman Bill Evans acknowledged, however, that it was "evident there was inappropriate behavior by (a) staff member."

"Unfortunately, it becomes a training tool for staff and emphasizes the importance of following district and state rules and procedures for dealing with special needs students," he said, calling the restraint and seclusion "an unfortunate and inappropriate way for someone to deal with a child misbehaving."

In one case, two seclusion "time outs" in October are described. John Doe was isolated, the suit alleges, because he did not want to come inside from recess. He was locked in a room naked, the suit says.

In another, the suit alleges a teacher held the student down and forced his mouth open so an aide could pour liquid soap down his throat and stuff paper towels in his mouth.

A Beaufort County Sheriff's Office incident report details a 9-year-old disabled student's complaint that he had been held down and had soap poured into his mouth Nov. 8, 2010.

Two teachers said in the sheriff's report that the student had hidden under a table. When he was pulled out, he cursed at one of the teachers.

That teacher said she wet a paper towel and dabbed it with soap, then rubbed it around the student's mouth because he had cursed, according to the report.

The other teacher denied knowing about the soap.

The report states that two teachers were placed on leave until the investigation ended. One of them has retired. The other still works for the district, according to spokesman Jim Foster.

No criminal charges were filed.

The boy's mother also says in the report her son had been hitting himself, mostly in the groin area, leading her to believe he had been sexually assaulted. She asked that Hope Haven, a children's advocacy and rape crisis center, conduct a forensic interview of her son. Hope Haven found the boy had not been sexually abused, the report states.

The woman and her son have since moved out of state. She declined to speak with a reporter about the settlement Thursday.

Her attorney, J. Olin McDougall II, said he was prevented by a confidentiality agreement from discussing the settlement.

Related content

  1. Lawsuits allege molestation of disabled Broad River Elementary student: July 27, 2012
  2. School district reaches settlement with insurers in molestation case: Sept. 22, 2011
  3. School district to be more open about its disclosure policies: Nov. 13, 2007

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