Blue Ridge Family Sues School District, Says 7-Year-Old Was Sexually Assaulted On Bus

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FARMER CITY — A Blue Ridge family is suing the school district after they say their 7-year-old daughter was sexually abused by a student on a school bus.

The first-grader who is identified as Jane Doe “was continuously subjected to sexual abuse by a male teenage student,” attorneys Jeff Green of Peoria and Monica Beck of The Fierberg National Law Group said in a statement.

A request for comment Tuesday was not immediately returned by the school district.

In the lawsuit filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois, the girl’s family claims her civil and constitutional rights were violated when the sexual harassment, performed by a 14-year-old student, occurred in plain sight and was captured on the school bus video security system. The lawsuit says the abuse occurred during the 2019-20 school year.

Despite knowing of the abuse, the suit claims Blue Ridge failed to conduct its own investigation “or offer academic or other counseling or accommodations to Jane Doe,” Beck and Green said.

The complaint also says the bus aides, who are “employed to monitor Jane Doe,” left their seats and allowed the male student to sit next to Doe, “giving him access to sexually assault her.”

The lawsuit claims the school district knowingly violated Doe’s individualized education plan, which is a legal document used for students who are eligible for special education. Doe, who has Down syndrome, is supposed to be buckled into a car seat in her assigned bus seat and have an aide present when she rides the school bus to directly monitor her.

Donald Freeman, who is identified in the complaint as Doe’s bus driver, and Alesia Zander and Lori Beck, who are identified as bus aides, are co-defendants named in the lawsuit alongside the Farmer City-based school district.

In addition to leaving their seats to allow the boy to sit with Doe, the two aides are also accused of regularly observing the teenage boy sexually harassing her.

The suit also claims on two occasions the bus aides allowed him to leave the bus with Doe and take her to his house without her parents’ consent.

According to the suit, the 14-year-old student was prosecuted for sexual abuse of Doe and another girl after law enforcement informed Doe’s parents on March 17, 2020, the teenager possessed the girl’s underwear.

The family claims the district’s failure to address and respond to the sexual harassment caused the girl to suffer further harassment from the boy as well as “physical, psychological, and emotional harm due to (his) sexual harassment and abuse and the School District’s failure to take appropriate steps to respond to and prevent (his) continued sexual harassment and abuse against her,” according to the lawsuit.

The Doe family is asking for a trial by jury and to be awarded compensatory damages in an amount to be established at trial, as well as other fees and damages.

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