Parents of two kindergarteners at JP school have a month to prove city failed to protect them from sexual attacks by another kindergartener

A federal judge yesterday dismissed a lawsuit filed by parents of two students at the Mission Hill K-8 School in Jamaica Plain against the city, saying they provided no proof that school and city officials somehow let the kids be attacked by a third student and then failed to adequately respond to the attacks.

But US District Court Judge Allison Burroughs gave the two sets of parents a month to file a revised complaint to show how school and city officials were negligent in the incidents in the 2014-2015 school year, when all three of the children were 4 and the student in question allegedly attacked one of their kids, and in the 2015-2016 school year, when he allegedly attacked the other.

In their complaint, originally filed in Suffolk Superior Court, the parents, identified only by pseudonyms, do not detail what happened, except to say that in the first instance, the student "sexually assaulted" one of the children and in the second, both sexually and physically attacked the other child. They allege officials at the school and at BPS failed to rectify the situation, in violation of various state and federal laws, including the Title IX anti-discrimination law:

The defendants' actions and failures to act caused serious physical and emotional injury to the plaintiffs.

But in a ruling issued yesterday, Burroughs agreed with school and city officials that that's just too vague to warrant finding for them:

Based on the complaint, the Court is not able to determine whether the harassment was severe or pervasive, whether B.G. and A.R. were deprived of educational opportunities or benefits, whether the school was deliberately indifferent, and whether the school’s response was clearly unreasonable in light of the circumstances. ... [T]he complaint does not explain when Defendants were informed of the assaults, what information they were provided, or what action or inaction they took in response to this information. Thus, the Court is unable to assess whether, given the facts and circumstances of this particular case, Defendants acted with deliberate indifference such that they could be liable for damages.

She gave them until Aug. 6 to file an amended complaint.

In addition to arguing the complaint was vague enough to warrant dismissal, a city attorney argued that, whatever did happen, the school acted appropriately:

The Plaintiffs' have failed to meet their burden that the Defendant was deliberately indifferent towards the alleged assault of either Plaintiff by another student. Deliberate indifference is a high standard, which requires more than mere vague allegations coupled with buzz words. More specifically, the school took several steps to address A.D [the attacking student] issues - assigned staff to monitor him, moved A.D. to a different class, tried to engage parent/guardian, etc. "If the institution takes timely and reasonable measures to end the harassment, it is not liable under Title IX for prior harassment" Doe v. D'Agostino, 367 F. Supp. 2d 157 (D. Mass 2005); quoting Willis v. Brown University, 184 F.3d 20, 26 (1st Cir. 1999). The age of the children involved is critical in the analysis of whether the measures taken by the school were adequate and sufficient. The unrefuted evidence shows that as soon as school administration had concerns about A.D.'s behavior, they immediately took steps to address it. It is important to highlight, that the Defendant is responsible for the education of all the parties involved in this lawsuit, not just the Plaintiffs. Given the nature and age of the parties, this was an extremely delicate situation, which the Defendant addressed as best it could. Although the parents may not have agreed with how the Defendant handled the situation that does not mean it rises to the level of deliberate indifference. The Defendant took developmentally appropriate, swift action in trying to ensure that both the Plaintiffs' and the alleged perpetrators educational and emotional needs were met.

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PDF icon Judge's ruling67.93 KB
PDF icon Parents' complaint279.57 KB
PDF icon City's response87.76 KB
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Comments

Unfortunately, Mission Hill has a history of not doing right by

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For the 20 years that Mission Hill has been in existence, there is story after story of them not taking parents concerns seriously. They have been allowed to operate in this way under multiple superintendents. One only needs to look at the mass exodus every few year to know that something is not right.

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Voting is closed. 34

Anyone else find the tone of the "defendant's statement"

Kind of arrogant and callous? Odd, considering that two kindergarteners were inarguably sexually assaulted on their watch. No regret or compassion whatsoever- they practically seem ready to blame the victims' parents for keeping their kids enrolled at the school.

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Voting is closed. 18

I don’t think that part is really in dispute

On page 6 of the defendant’s very long and multilayered legal response they assert that, given the age of the students involved, they could not merely call the Boston Police or expel the student- if nothing very serious had occurred there would be no reason to say this. It is pretty clear they are arguing that they did enough, not that the alleged assaults did not occur.

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Voting is closed. 16

On the other hand, a 4-5 year

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On the other hand, a 4-5 year old doesn't sexually assault other kids without there being something SERIOUS going on at home - the mention of "attempted" to involve parent/guardian is another hint.... this isn't a 35 year old kiddydiddler wandering around the school hallways, this seems like a tragic situation for everyone involved, and the school seemed to have tried to do their best, only to get sued by (understandably) distraught parents.

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Voting is closed. 15

Not necessarily

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I complete extensive child, parent, and family clinical evaluations for the courts, the child welfare system, and through private referral sources. The field has moved away from the outdated idea that a child displaying certain behaviors has certainly been abused. A child on the autism spectrum, or with OCD, or Tourette's, or with other traits along these lines can become obsessed with taboo topics. Or a child with AD/HD and/or a trauma history might have trouble controlling their impulses and might be seeking out negative behavior.

It doesn't sound like anyone is even suggesting this child had age-inappropriate knowledge of sexuality. Kids at these ages playing games where they dare or force people to kiss or show their private parts are actually completely developmentally normal. They're then told not to do these things, and the typically developing kids mostly stop. The kid who continues to try and do things after they're told to stop might then be trying these games with kids who are no longer willing to participate. The school needs to be supervising and intervening in this case.

Based on the complaint, we don't know what happened. It's vague, as the judge said. It isn't clear if the plaintiffs are describing the school allowing known grossly inappropriate behavior to continue, or the school failing to be psychic and anticipate single instances of young children trying things out that aren't appropriate. We don't know if the child in question is behaving extremely lewdly and inappropriate toward other children, or whether the child has an awkward social presentation that makes people uncomfortable.

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Voting is closed. 17

"On their watch" really doesn

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"On their watch" really doesn't mean anything. Technically anything can happen "on someone's watch." It doesn't inherently mean that there was something that could have been done different.

The question is were their clear steps that should have been taken/not taken. Based on what was posted here we have no idea. Perhaps the district messed up and was clearly negligent. Perhaps the plaintiffs are out of control and unreasonable parents. We don't know.

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Voting is closed. 16

OK, we can't tell what's going on here

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Without actual detailed information, we can't tell what happened and whether the schools reacted appropriately. The court agreed. I'm leaning towards feeling like the act was just something bad that kids do that isn't really something for the courts to decide. The court is bending over backwards to give the parents the chance to make their case (admirable), so I trust that if there is a true problem here, it will be handled appropriately.

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Voting is closed. 14