A nearly $130,000 settlement agreement was reached Thursday morning in a lawsuit that alleged bullying and harassment of a Eugene Field Elementary School student.
Judge Kate Schaefer approved the settlement between the family filing the suit and the St. Joseph School District. The case involved an autistic student at the school who alleged was to have been subjected to name-calling and other forms of harassment, according to attorneys representing the family.
The settlement consists of more than $34,000 in a structured settlement agreement, with nearly $60,000 to the plaintiff’s attorney, Rebecca Randles. A total of $10,000 will be deposited into a savings account on behalf of the 13-year-old student, with $25,000 split evenly between the parents for medical bills and therapy.
The student’s mother, who was referred to in court by a pseudonym, testified on the case and agreement. The pseudonym was used to prevent identification of the child involved in the case.
“It’s about my son being bullied and him being handcuffed,” the mother said while on the witness stand at the hearing.
She said her son was handcuffed while at the school and had been struck and thrown. His glasses were knocked off his face, and a derogatory figure was drawn on his head, according to testimony.
The woman said her son has been diagnosed with a condition similar to post-traumatic stress syndrome, and he also suffers from anxiety. She said the agreement is in her son’s best interest.
“He’s had lots of counseling,” she testified, saying the boy had been to Children’s Mercy Hospital and Crittenton Children’s Center.
The agreement was prepared in May and prevents the family from pursuing further legal action against the school district and its officials, including Eugene Field Principal Joni Owens.
The St. Joseph School District provided a statement on the settlement.
“The district and Eugene Field Elementary staff strongly denied the plaintiff’s allegations in this suit, which included alleged student bullying, inappropriate discipline and inadequacies in a student’s special education services. The district, school staff and legal counsel were prepared to vigorously defend the district against those allegations at trial. The district’s insurance companies elected to settle the case under the policies that covered the suit, which gave the insurers authority to make the decision. The settlement is being funded solely by the insurance companies.
“The student at issue remains enrolled at the district. We are committed to educating the student and moving forward positively with the student and the student’s family.
“The district investigates all allegations of bullying, harassment, discrimination and retaliation brought to our attention. We are prepared to take prompt disciplinary action as appropriate. We condemn such behaviors and continue to implement anti-bullying and anti-discrimination programs throughout the district, while encouraging positive behavior at our buildings. We want all students to feel safe at school. We assure parents that their child’s safety and well-being is our top priority.”
The lawsuit was filed in August 2017 and detailed alleged acts that occurred at Eugene Field during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 academic years.
Two separate bullying cases pending in Buchanan County Circuit Court involve students at Skaith Elementary School and Oak Grove Elementary School. A case that relates to alleged discrimination of a Bessie Ellison Elementary School student has been transferred to federal court.
One case that alleged abuse of a student at Mid-Buchanan Elementary School has been settled, while another alleging an assault on a Mid-Buchanan student by a teacher’s aide remains on track for a jury trial at the courthouse.