Lawsuit Over Sexual Assault of Sumner Special-Ed Student Settles For $7.6 Million

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The Sumner-Bonney Lake School District settled a lawsuit last week for $7.6 million with the family of a developmentally disabled girl who claimed she was sexually assaulted by a classmate because school personnel failed to protect her when she was a special-education student at Sumner High School.

In flickering video captured by a hallway surveillance camera, and entered in evidence as part of the lawsuit, one of the girl’s special-education classmates can be seen holding open the door to a boys’ bathroom and beckoning her to join him with a wave.

Inside the bathroom, according to the lawsuit filed in Pierce County, the boy sexually assaulted the then-17-year-old girl, who operated at the cognitive level of a 7-year-old. Another student walked in on the incident, captured on Jan. 6, 2020, and reported it immediately to teachers.

But when school resumed, the school, due to budget cuts, didn’t have enough paraprofessionals to shadow the girl as she moved about the school, according to the lawsuit. The girl, identified in court records only by the initials J.H., told police that, before the January 2020 incident, the boy had taken her into the bathroom for sex multiple times since the start of the school year.

By the Sumner-Bonney Lake School District’s own count, from October 2016 to March 2020 — a period that encompasses J.H.’s assault claim — 41 Sumner High School students were formally disciplined for sexual misconduct ranging from unwelcome verbal abuse to forceable physical contact against the victim’s will and on-campus sex, according to school district records that became part of the lawsuit.

After the bathroom incident, J.H. left school early to join a program that provides jobs and teaches independent living skills to people with cognitive disabilities. But when her former classmates joined the same program, J.H. was constantly reminded of her assault.

Now 21, she is in therapy, holds a job in the food-service industry, and has moved out of Pierce County along with her family. She has welcomed the fresh start, but the assault continues to haunt her.



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