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.