$2 million lawsuit filed against schools

woman says a pupil molested her son


December 08, 2004|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,SUN STAFF

A Hampstead mother is seeking more than $2 million in damages in a lawsuit that alleges her son was molested several times by another pupil at Spring Garden Elementary last spring.

The lawsuit, filed in Carroll County Circuit Court late last week, contends that school officials failed to protect her son from repeated sexual harassment despite having promised to prevent the boys from being alone together.

The lawsuit names the state, the county Board of Commissioners, the school board and Spring Garden's acting assistant principal, Karen Rogers, as defendants.

The suit - which accuses school officials of gross negligence - asserts that school officials "failed to take the proper and necessary steps to safeguard [the victim's] well-being, and protect him from repeated sexual assaults."

By filing the lawsuit, the mother "is trying to say the reaction of the school system was insufficient, egregiously insufficient," said her attorney, Bradley L. MacFee Sr.

"There's a trust between the school system and families," MacFee said. "I'm a parent. I know when my kid gets on the bus every day and is out of my sight for four or six hours, I'm trusting the right things are happening."

The mother, who filed the lawsuit on her son's behalf, could not be reached for comment yesterday. The Sun is not disclosing the mother's name to protect the boy's privacy.

The Child Abuse and Sexual Assault unit in Carroll County investigated the allegations this year and closed the case without filing criminal charges, said state police Sgt. John Carhart, head of the unit.

The lawsuit details five incidents in which the mother alleges her son was sexually assaulted by the boy at school. Spring Garden enrolls about 600 pupils in kindergarten through fifth grade.

According to the lawsuit, immediately after the first incident, the boy reported to Rogers that another boy had touched him and made sexual comments to him on the school playground, but he left out the most explicit details of what had happened.

After telling his mother the full story later that day, a Friday, she went to the school with him the following Monday to report the incident in greater detail to Rogers, the lawsuit stated.

According to the lawsuit, Rogers assured the mother and her son "that a plan would be implemented immediately to ensure [the two boys] would not be left alone together at any time in the future."

However, the lawsuit alleges, four more similar incidents occurred on school grounds - when the boy was leaving class to go the bathroom, during recess, at his locker and outside the cafeteria bathroom.

In at least two of those incidents, according to the lawsuit, the boys were unsupervised.

School officials, who said late yesterday they still had not been served with the lawsuit, maintain that school staff acted appropriately in addressing the mother's allegations.

Superintendent Charles I. Ecker said the CASA investigation determined that the school system had met its obligations in responding to the situation.

"We were found OK," he said. "I support [Rogers]. She followed the regulations and rules" that are outlined in the school system's handbook.

Ecker said Rogers reported the mother's allegations to CASA investigators as required.

"She acted as a prudent person would act," he said.

Rogers could not be reached yesterday for comment.

The school board's attorney, Edmund J. O'Meally, who picked up a copy of the lawsuit at the courthouse after hearing about it yesterday, said the district would "vigorously defend the case."

"We believe we responded to the alleged incident in an appropriate manner and took appropriate steps to protect students," he said.

"Sometimes when a child is involved in something, parents get frustrated because they don't get a whole lot of information from school officials involving the other children" because of privacy laws, O'Meally said. "I can understand how that might be frustrating ... but I'm confident that the way it was handled at the school was appropriate."

County Attorney Kimberly A. Millender said she plans to file a motion to have the county removed from the lawsuit because "county commissioners have no authority nor control over the Board of Education or its employees." She said the county has sent a letter to the mother's attorney informing him that the county has no involvement in school decisions.

Sun staff writer Athima Chansanchai contributed to this article.

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