Novi School District Faces Multimillion Dollar Jury Trail In Special Education Case
The Novi case is among others in recent years (that have come to our attention) resulting from a lack of sufficient training and preventative measures to keep children with autism safe while at school. The link to the Novi case is here, when it first broke http://www.clickondetroit.com/news/defenders/defenders-alleged-sex-crime-at-local-school_20151201233813518. The hearing took place in October, 2016 in Federal Court, in Flint.
The judge ruled in favor of the family on the following Counts of their complaint, thereby allowing these claims to proceed to a jury trial on the facts. After the jury hears the testimony and reviews the evidence it will decide if money damages and other relief is warranted and in what amount;
· Count I – a claim under Title IX that the Novi Schools allowed “severe and pervasive” student-to-student “sexual harassment” to exist and that it response upon learning of the harassment was unreasonable.
· Count II – A claim under Title IX that the Novi Schools, by its principal and assistant principal, took actions against the student’s parent as a result of the parent’s advocacy efforts on his child’s behalf. Including:
o An effort to suppress any evidence that the claimed abuse had actually occurred
o Deleting relevant evidence
o Suspending the victim, a student with autism
o Harming the student’s educational records by placing incident reports, absence reports and notes of incomplete work in the record, all related to the victim’s sexual harassment.
o Informing the parents it was “safe” for their child to return to school, when it was not.
· Count III – a claim under the Civil Rights Act (20 USC §1983) against the Novi Schools based upon its failure to properly train its staff to address the needs of student’s subject to sexual harassment.
· Count IV – a claim under the Civil Rights Act (20 USC §1983) against the student’s special education classroom teacher under a theory that the Novi Schools created the danger to the student with autism and in doing so caused the harm to the student suffered.
· Count IV – a claim under the Civil Rights Act (20 USC §1983) against the school principal that the principal failed to properly supervise the school staff, and that resulted in the student with autism being injured.
· Count VIII – a claim based upon Michigan common law against the school principal and assistant principal for intentional infliction of emotional distress as a result of their direct conduct which included destroying relevant tape recordings taken by a school security camera and placing the student in autism back in the same school setting after learning that the student was the victim of “chronic sexual abuse”.
· Count XI – a claim based upon Michigan common law against the company that supplies the Novi Schools it substitute teachers school, claiming that the company failed to properly address its employee’s negligence related to protecting the student with autism.
Autism Alliance of Michigan’s goal in response to this case is to educate and increase awareness not only for schools/educators, but to help families understand what they need to do in working with schools to protect their children:
· Mandated and Funded Autism Trainings:
o Given the significant rise in autism incidence, schools have an obligation to understand this disorder to the extent that not only should they be prepared to address academic needs in the classroom, but to understand the vulnerability of children with autism so as to provide appropriate supervision in all school settings, including resource rooms, the playground, transitioning in/out of school buildings, during transportation, extra-curricular activities and sporting events, and on the playground.
o The Novi case clearly demonstrates that many schools are not taking these preventative measures and/or addressing the concerns of parents once a concern/complaint surfaces.
o The lack of Title IX training is significant and puts all children at risk, but even more so our most vulnerable population of students; those with disabilities/autism and mental health challenges
· Supervision/Cross Categorical Placement and Seclusion and Restraint:
o In the Novi case, the children were isolated from others, in a difficult to view classroom where the activity took place. The child with autism was left alone with a child with a severe emotional disorder and history of sexual and physical behavior problems.
o The school’s “clean slate” policy in not carrying student behavior records from prior years essentially obliterated the teacher’s opportunity to understand the risk the perpetrator presented
o Bullying: Children with a history of bullying are not being supervised and the children with the greatest vulnerability (due to social deficits/inability to read social cues accurately) are the victims