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Parent Files Lawsuit over School Bullying

Claims 9-Year-Old Son with Medical Condition Suffered Harassment for Wearing Diapers to Class


Thursday, October 3, 2013
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Liliana Alvarez, the mother of a 9-year-old Roosevelt Elementary School student, is suing the Santa Barbara Unified School District because administrators and school staff allegedly neglected to relocate her son to a new campus after he reportedly experienced several years of bullying, emotional abuse, harassment, and discrimination. Alvarez’s son has to wear diapers to school because he suffers from intestinal problems and lacks control over his urinary and bowel movements.

Alvarez became frustrated with Roosevelt after her son’s classmates discovered he wore diapers to kindergarten even though she intended for the information to be kept a secret, according to Alvarez’s lawyer, Matt Clarke with law firm Christman Kelley & Clarke. Kids teased her son at school and shouted things like, “Hey fat brown boy, you stink,” the legal filing reads. Alvarez’s son reportedly came home crying and said he did not want to return to school. Alvarez claims his teachers and school staff failed to intervene and, at times, escalated the problem.

In one incident in 2010, a school medical assistant repeatedly called the plaintiff to come and get her son — referred to as John Doe in legal filings — because he had soiled his pants. But when Alvarez arrived at the school, the court filing reads, school representatives told her that “it was just a mistake,” and that another child had passed gas near her son and yelled, “John Doe pooped in his pants!” As similar incidents continued to occur, Alvarez claims her son told her, “Nobody likes or wants me here in school,” and, “I want to kill myself.”

Alvarez said she eventually went to Superintendent Dave Cash to discuss the problem after claiming Roosevelt Principal Donna Ronzone shirked her duties and, the court filing states, “responded that Plaintiff should be the one taking care of John Doe; come to school with him, stay with him every minute, so that the children would not bully him.” Alvarez claims Cash said he would address the problem but that he and Assistant Superintendent Emilio Handall did not transfer her son to another school and instead simply moved him to a different classroom at Roosevelt.

The district is the sole defendant in the case, and its lawyers have 30 days to respond to the complaint, which is seeking compensatory damages. Attorney Clayton Hall, who has represented the district in other lawsuits, said he could not comment on cases that are still in preliminary stages. Cash similarly said he couldn’t comment on the lawsuit, as did district and Roosevelt employees.

Alvarez claims the bullying and emotional abuse at the school continued after her meeting with district administrators and that she took her son to the Santa Barbara County Mental Health Clinic in November 2012 because he became depressed and expressed suicidal thoughts. A clinical psychologist reportedly supported Alvarez’s plan for her son to transfer schools so his new classmates would not be aware that he wears a diaper.

The situation had deteriorated to the point that for a few months at the end of the 2012-2013 school year, the district sent a home-school teacher to the Alvarez house to give John Doe lessons, Clarke said. Clarke believes his involvement in the case — which began in November 2012 after the problem had persisted for over two years — motivated the district to allow a teacher to go to the home. But this school year, Clarke said, the district told Alvarez her son has to return to Roosevelt. Clarke said much of the communication between his client — who doesn’t speak much English — and school personnel was over the phone and in person, and written documentation explaining the change is not available.

Comments

Independent Discussion Guidelines

how does trying to extort money from the school prevent bullying? seems counterproductive to me. maybe mom should work WITH the school using her resources and efforts to campaign against bullying rather than trying to suck the lifeblood from it.

StockiestCastle (anonymous profile)
October 3, 2013 at 1:53 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Sounds like she has been trying to work with the school for years and they have failed to punish the kids who continue to harass this poor boy.

First they steal her money in property taxes to pay for the school, then she has to go to work to pay her property taxes so she doesn't have the option of educating her own child or continuing to work more and paying somebody else to do it. Then they won't even change schools for her.

'Extort' away, this lady deserves a refund. The entire notion of public schooling is flawed and has merely turned into a babysitting service with low educational standards.

loonpt (anonymous profile)
October 3, 2013 at 2:10 p.m. (Suggest removal)

It's obvious the school is incapable of handling this situation. There are solutions but they involve teacher intervention & monitoring. How many hats does the teacher have to wear and how many hours do they need to put in to get respect and pay they deserve? Too many robots on auto pilot.

spacey (anonymous profile)
October 3, 2013 at 2:12 p.m. (Suggest removal)

This is a sad tale. The boy obviously needed to be home-schooled from the very beginning. I remember being at Roosevelt School, oh so many decades ago, and if you were different, you were an outcast.

A fact of life: humans will act just the same as chickens, monkeys, other animals, in shunning the weak and casting out the weak.

I, for one, would not like to have gone to school with a child who sometimes smelled of feces. Just the way kids are. Brutally instinctive, at that age.

chilldrinfthenight (anonymous profile)
October 3, 2013 at 2:16 p.m. (Suggest removal)

KIds are cruel. I was bullied in the 4th and 5th grade for the crime of being smarter than the rest of the boys, they would strip the books off my bicycle rack and throw my jacket up into the tree.

By JHS my balls dropped and my physical stature ended the problems. I do remember a very smart and small Jewish boy that helped me sometimes with my math. The school bully, also Jewish, had him surrounded by his posse of sheep/followers preparing to beat the tar out of him.

I stepped into the circle with a few choice expletives and let it be known that the first person to ever lay a finger on Leonard was toast, they tucked their tails and walked off.

Kids are bullied when other kids standby and do nothing but we don't teach that anymore in our schools. Thank you Arthur, I remember to this day our classroom discussions that had nothing to do with mathematics.

howgreenwasmyvalley (anonymous profile)
October 3, 2013 at 3:40 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Shame on the Roosevelt staff for not letting the boy transfer, let alone stop the bullying. They deserve to be sued for not keeping a student safe from bullying due to a physical handicap, since that is a primary duty they owe to the students. I was bullied for having a lazy eye and teacher action did little to protect me from bullying. People are real cruel to anyone who is a little different, at least his mother is protecting him.

islanddolphin (anonymous profile)
October 3, 2013 at 4:28 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Sounds like extortion to me. Are public school teachers supposed to check the boy's diapers themselves? If a fellow student smells like poop, how can you reasonably expect young kids not to talk about it?

It also smacks of hypocrisy that the mother claims she doesn't want anybody to know about her son's problem, yet she's suing the school district claiming they didn't stop the teasing.

Lars (anonymous profile)
October 3, 2013 at 4:33 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Any wonder why so many parents are now homeschooling their kids?

There is a LOT of information on the Internet about the homeschooling world, and several of my friends are homeschooling their kids.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
October 3, 2013 at 6:17 p.m. (Suggest removal)

This is a sad and extreme case. Both my children experienced some amount of bullying in grade school. As did both my wife and I. It goes with the territory. So the bullying itself is not really an issue. It is part of the environment. This child is certainly a special case and probably needs special accommodation. How much the educational system is responsible for special accommodations would be an interesting conversation. Bullying is always ugly and I recall my own experiences with shame (both when I was the victim and the bully). I don't think there is anything that the School District can do to wipe it out. Hopefully, this will result in some kind of accommodation where the child can get an education in a safe environment. And Loonpt, what evidence did you derive from the article that the plaintiff owns property and pays property taxes? Not that it matters, because all citizens deserve access to public education whether or not they pay property taxes. But I believe you made an assumption not supported by the evidence at hand.

Eckermann (anonymous profile)
October 3, 2013 at 8:23 p.m. (Suggest removal)

It is not really fun when you are the one that is being bullied. bullying has been the most common issues that is present in every school throughout the world, most of the bullied students suffer from not just physical as well as emotional and psychological distress, this could lower the child's self esteem and confidence. Parents should always make sure that their children is bully free, they must ensure their child safety and security towards this common problem. So I also suggest a safety application that your child could use if he/she in trouble, just check it here: http://safekidzone.com/#!/page_home.

ricardoC (anonymous profile)
October 4, 2013 at 6:30 a.m. (Suggest removal)

What chilldrifthenight writes is true regardless of the school, the district, the city, the state, or the country. It is called human nature and exists everywhere we live.

The child wearing the diaper has just as much right to attend public schools as the child not wearing a diaper. What follows having to sit in soiled diapers, or sit next to the person with soiled diapers, is the same...A disgusting and inhuman experience.

Would this be any different an outcome in a workplace environment? Would the same circumstances lead to a "hostile work environment" cause of action?

Don't all individuals have the right to work and be schooled in an environment that is free from offensive odor, language, and behavior? After reading these posts, I wonder about all the rights being violated and all the obligations not being honored.

thinkon (anonymous profile)
October 4, 2013 at 7:59 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Where's Pacifica's arch crusader tex or montecitotex to attack the attorneys and blame the victim in this case? I'm just so tired of schools taking our money and then treating us as if we were the problem. This woman and her son deserve their day in court.

johansendk (anonymous profile)
October 4, 2013 at 8:02 a.m. (Suggest removal)

First of all there are two sides to this story. The schools need our support. The SB School district is once again being extorted for money. There are other issues with the case and if you actually knew the kid and the situation fully, then you would understand that this is just another person trying to cash out. All the teachers at Roosevelt and staff are very sensitive to bullying and making sure every kid is treated respectfully. There are other obvious health issues beyond this poor kid's intestinal problem and I would not be surprised if the parent could be called into question for neglect. If my kid had been having issues with a particular school to this extent then my kid would be pulled out of there immediately. Why would anyone continue to put their kid in this situation year after year if they were this unhappy? Unless you are trying to create a case so you can benefit monetarily. Again..We have a great staff at Roosevelt and EVERY kid is treated with the utmost respect. We also have an abundance of parent support. No one would sit by and allow this abuse to go on.

Twosides (anonymous profile)
October 4, 2013 at 9:47 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Sue the holy hell out of them..

Byrd (anonymous profile)
October 4, 2013 at 12:29 p.m. (Suggest removal)

when I attended Adams a zillion years ago, I knew two kids that wore diapers. we 'all' teased them until the school counseled the various classes. The worst kids paid a special visit to Mr Peters and his paddle. problem solved.

most kids today are much more sensitive and aware of disabilities. but alas bullying by a few has always been an issue in schools. It does seem nowadays that schools are hamstrung by a decrease in parental responsibility and maturity and school limitations to tackle discipline issues

passagerider (anonymous profile)
October 5, 2013 at 6:29 a.m. (Suggest removal)

The truth is that kids say it like it is! Then it's up to the adults to gently correct behavior and talk that hurts feelings, lacks compassion etc. WHY DID CERTAIN STAFF NEGLECT THEIR DUTY - as per the mother's request - to keep the diapers private, " secret" if you will? It is obvious to anyone working in the elementary grades that something like this would be enormously important to the other kids, and that there would definitely be a negative reaction from other students. Being a " big boy" and NOT wearing diapers is a huge part of the growing up process. This poor kid has to endure the diapers due to a bodily function he cannot control. The least the adults could have done was help him with something he COULD control: who knew about it.
Having said all this I DON'T agree that suing the school will DO anything - how does this help the kid? Will money stop the kids saying mean things? Will it perhaps pay mom's lawyer? Will it " teach" Roosevelt a lesson? I think this publicity will teach the school and school district a lesson; no money should change hands. Put the boy over at Adams or Peabody, or Franklin and the Superintendent should write a letter for ALL. Schools reiterating the bullying policies and the expectations we taxpayers can reasonably have of our teachers. Boy! Times have changed; bullying hasn't.

bloodydramaqueen (anonymous profile)
October 6, 2013 at 12:45 a.m. (Suggest removal)

This has been going on for quite a while now. It is obvious that this school or should I say the staff and starting with the principal should be removed. Obviously they dont have the qualifications to handle a situation like this. Bullying these days is something that should be taken serious at all times.

I say the SUE the school, why not. Obviously people havent been in a situation like this to even understand. MONEY will give the child a better education in a better school. But remember the Principal and other staff should be FIRED or replaced .
I have someone in my family that suffered the same situation at this school. If this parent need any info regarding all this . We shall be happy to cooperate, i am sure this is not the only child

Sgarrido (anonymous profile)
October 22, 2013 at 12:49 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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