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Boston will pay $650,000 to parents who say their children were sexually attacked by a student at a JP school now under investigation for possible student mistreatment

Update: The ages of the alleged attacker and the two girls has been added to the story.

Attorneys representing two parents whose daughters once attended the Mission Hill K-8 School in Jamaica Plain last month reached agreement with BPS attorneys on a $650,000 settlement of their lawsuit, which alleges that not only did the school's principal do nothing to stop one young student from sexually attacking other students, she fired a teacher who disobeyed her order not to file a report with the state Department of Children and Families.

BPS did not admit to any wrongdoing, but the settlement came after a federal judge ruled that the parents' allegations had enough substance to "shock the conscience," the legal standard for determining whether to allow a case to continue against a government agency, in this case, BPS.

The two parents, who went by pseudonyms, originally sued in 2017 in Suffolk Superior Court, alleging that a student identified as A.J. had been sexually attacking other students, including their daughters, over the course of three school years. BPS had the case moved to federal court, where a judge dismissed the suit as too vague, but with the proviso that the parents could file a more detailed complaint, which they did.

In their revised complaint, the parents charged that A.J. had already established a pattern of sexually assaulting other students when, in October, 2014, he "digitally penetrated" one of the daughters - when both students were just 4 and in a K1 class, according to a document filed in the case by the city.

Complaints to the school by them and other parents, they charge, fell on deaf ears and A.J. kept right on going after other students, the suit alleged.

Over the course of that school year, he sexually attacked her and at least five other students, again, the parents claim, with no action by the school or principal Ayla Gavins, except to continue to tell staffers not to tell DCF anything and to ignore complaints from parents.

The following school year, A.J., still a student at Mission Hill and now 5, allegedly groped the other couple's daughter and tried to kiss her and made her expose her genitals, threatening her with violence if she refused.

The attacks continued through a third school year, in 2017, again without action by the school, the parents claimed, adding that at one point, A.J. was seated in class right next to one of their daughters.

The period during which this was happening overlaps with the period over which the school's two current co-leaders did something - exactly what hasn't been released publicly - that led to their being placed on leave related to "the mistreatment of at least one student." Also during that period, a Mission Hill teacher was charged with indecent assault and battery on a student.

In their response to the suit, the city basically argued the judge should toss the suit because the bar for suing a government entity and its employees is really high and you have to prove stuff like "deliberate indifference" and Mission Hill wasn't being indifferent at all:

It is important to note, 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. 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.

In 2019, Burroughs dismissed part of the parents' revised complaint but ruled they could continue to press the main points of their lawsuit. She upheld the parents' right to continue to press a claim that their children were at particular risk from a "state-created danger," caused by the school's decision to keep teachers from filing "51A" abuse forms with DCF:

Gavins and other school staff knew that A.J. assaulted two other students before he assaulted B.G. during the 2014-2015 school year. In addition, they knew that that A.J. assaulted B.G. (one of the girls) and five other students during the 2014-2015 school year before he assaulted A.R. (the other girl) during the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 school years. ... Moreover, Gavins and other school staff were aware that B.G. and A.R. were specifically vulnerable to continued abuse by A.J. because they had witnessed or otherwise learned that A.J. assaulted B.G. and A.R. ... By discouraging and delaying the filing of 51A Reports in connection with A.J.'s sexual assaults and retaliating against a teacher who filed such a Report, officials chose to ignore the danger to B.G. and A.R. and aggravated their vulnerability. In short, school officials' decision not to report known sexual assaults to DCF in accordance with Massachusetts law despite knowing that elementary school-aged children (who are particularly vulnerable due to their age) had been repeatedly assaulted is sufficiently conscience-shocking to survive a motion to dismiss.

Burroughs ruled that Gavins had qualified immunity for her actions as principal and dismissed the charges specifically against her.

Following the ruling, the two sides kept going back and forth on various points, for example, on just what details of the alleged attacking student's record could be released to the parents' attorney, until this past November, when Burroughs referred the case to a magistrate judge for an attempt at mediation.

On July 13 of this year, the magistrate judge, M. Page Kelley, reported the two sides had come to a settlement agreement.

On Friday, the attorney for the parents filed a motion asking Burroughs to sign off on the settlement, which called for a $650,000 total payment from the city, with the bulk going to the two families, with smaller amounts to three other families.

On Monday, Burroughs agreed to the deal.

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Comments

There’s no greater bloated bureaucracy than BPS in the whole state.

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And BPS is not bloated. If anything they need more support staff to deal with the level of poverty related social problems in the student population.

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Is noted. Improper disciplinary protocols, rogue employees (the murderous preacher) are commonplace. Did you not read the article about the management churn? It’s a revolving door at Bolling. Nothing gets done because people don’t stay long enough to see a task to completion. BPS doesn’t need more money for salaries. It needs leadership.

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Agreed but in this situation the principal blocked any effort to get him help. He needed a entire person to shadow him and protect the other children.

Or they should have done the right thing in the first place…refer him out to a program

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I'm not sure how support staff would have helped or prevented this situation, but it's the non-school bureaucrats that need to be fired and the system needs to be reorganized from the ground up.

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Having a grown adult whose entire job it was to stick to AJ like glue seems like it would have made some of these incidents preventable, for one.

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This is ugly. #BringBackTheAgassiz

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Remember when they suddenly closed it because the mold problem had proven too bad to possibly fix? And then they suddenly realized it wasn't all that bad and they could turn the building into two schools?

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What's a little mold? Plenty of us old BLS'ers breathed asbestos for years....we're finnneee. Sort of. LOL

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I forgot about the mold problem. I’m just glorifying my childhood days! Hahaha!

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Although this is not uncommon for younger 4-8 year olds to be "protected" by school staff in not filing 51As. Meaning kids often horseplay with kids and getting DCF involved isn't always the right move (not talking about acase like this they should have reported for obvious reasons.)

But parents can report the abuse themselves to the police and the police will always file a 51A and DCF will investigate the school on their own (with the DA/police). This seems messed up though.

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Voting closed 39

This kid A.J. should have been removed from the school.

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Yes… yes he should have and not only did Ayla do NOTHING about it.. she threatened the parents and teachers if they spoke out.

This kid was a MONSTER….made by Ayla and the district that turned a blind eye and left her in power… ALL were at fault.

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Voting closed 36

But are we really characterizing a kid of no more than 8 years old a MONSTER?

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If you saw how he went after the other kids, yes he was. And Ayla made everything worse. This kid was MEAN. Instead of getting the interventions and help he needed they put him up on a pedestal.

The kid KNEW he had all these advantages and used then to torment anyone in his path. Day after day after day.

What message did that send to all the other kids?

The message sent by the people in charge of their care was that their pain their being victims didn’t matter.

Someone can hurt you and there are no consequences..ever….

This was entire year we’re most of the kids in that class did not want to go to school.

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Voting closed 25

I don't think 8 in K-8 stands for 8 year old.

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51As can be filed anonymously and are the responsibility of the adults involved to file by Massachusetts law. I wish my boss/supervisor/administrator would tell me as an adult or parent that I cannot file a 51A. This went on way too long. What this principal did by refusing to file a 51A hurt both children. AJ was clearly being abused and his circumstances at home needed to be investigated and services through the Child Advocacy Center were paramount. And this money isn’t enough to repair the psychological damage the child subjected to this is now faced with.

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No child is a “MONSTER”.

You watch too many cartoons.

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your "horseplay" is someone's ruined life

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Is all I’m saying.

5 year old slaps another 5 year olds butt and someone (parent) wants that 5 year old expelled and charged with indecent assault and battery of a child under 14. Should the City have to pay 40k a year to send that kid to some special school because he doesn’t know that slapping a butt is criminal?

Should the 12 year old who does it get expelled and have a felony conviction for the rest of his life? (I’m asking, not taking a side here)

When DCF does get those cases they close them after talking to the family anyways.

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Voting closed 39

but once the word "penetration" enters the allegation, it's more than just horseplay.

The inaction detailed in the complaint is a textbook Title IX violation. Perhaps they don't drill that into K-8 teachers the way we get it in a university setting, but then perhaps they should...

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Voting closed 63

Typing on the phone here and wasn’t clear. My bad.

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Yeah you know what Pete… this was NOT that.
You weren’t there.. the kid was a predator. and took advantage of all the special treatment he got and preyed on kids more… like another parent said if Ayla did the right thing and let the teachers do their jobs.. he could have gotten the help he needed sooner and the kids that suffered the unspeakable wouldn’t have had to.

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Is all I’m saying.

Is this really the thread to be saying it?

This is about a specific case. Your comments amount to a "yeah but" derail to talk about generalities. Maybe this isn't the place to keep saying "yeah but".

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You don't seem to offer much to this board except being some sort of hall pass monitor. It's getting old.

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You don't seem to offer much to this board but irrelevant derails. In the context of this thread, it sounds like you want to bury a case of sexual abuse under a cover of "yeahbut it's sometimes just innocent touching" even though it clearly wasn't in this case. It's getting old.

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Look at your recent comments. Pretty much all of them involve policing someone else's opinions, posts or comments. I didn't even know it was that bad until I looked it up. Seriously, you don't have to comment on everything.

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Whatever you say, boss. You do you, boss.

Block function, Adam, please.

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You don't need a block button. When I see your name above a post, I don't read it because it usually entails some junior high nonsense with some other poster that isn't important or relevant to anything. It's not hard really. I have a feeling you won't do that though and need to have the last word everywhere. You should try the same but I have a feeling that would be very difficult for you.

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And yet, you somehow know all about what's in his comments. Do you pay someone to read them for you, then tell you what they say? Inquiring minds want to know.

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I went back and looked at his posts (to see if they are still nonsense and juvenile) and I was exactly right. Go look yourself and you will see they are all bitch sessions with other posters over boring stupid stuff with no substance.

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Or maybe "looked at" is different from "read." Whatever. I not only read what you said, I quoted it.

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Voting closed 13

I didn't even know it was that bad until I looked it up.

When I said this above (also a quote that you somehow didn't want to quote or simply ignore), it meant that since I don't read their posts, I had to actually go back and look what they actually wrote and it confirmed my point about why I don't read that persons posts to begin with.

Nice try though.

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and I thought Jenny Sazama was the worst human being involved with BPS out of JP.

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That principal belongs in prison.
Qualified immunity? Are you fucking kidding me?

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Voting closed 64

And what about A. J. and his parents?

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Perhaps A.J. would have gotten the mental health care he needs. Certainly the two girls could have been spared the horrors of seeing their predator in school daily for years.

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Whether emotional or he may be repeating abuse he is experiencing. I see a lot of hate of this kid and we only see one side. I'm not in any way excusing his behavior but it is likely he is also a victim here and the sooner he gets help/protection the better his chances of growing up to be a productive member of society as opposed to a life long predator that society needs to be protected from.

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Voting closed 48

Is at the ADULTS who should have called DCF from day one. If they had not tried to sweep this under the rug all the kids involved could have gotten help.

They could then get this kid help and also work with the school to made appropriate accommodations, for example if the kid gets to stay in school he needs a full time aide watching him to make sure he doesn't assault anyone. Or they put him in a school where he isn't able to sexually assault other children. That way he gets help and an education and the other kids are protected from his assaults.

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If DCF had gotten involved from the outset

And they have such a record of success.

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This is horrible!

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government employees who do bad things on the job. No one in the private sector has these protections, and yet the world continues to turn just fine.

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Teachers are mandated reporters of child abuse. That means they are required by law to report any such abuse that they even suspect. For a supervisor like a principal to tell mandated reporters to not file a 51A is gross dereliction of duty, and clearly illegal. The principal should be charged. If this is a routine practice in the school system, it needs to stop.

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Voting closed 35

Is that principals will tell teachers not to file the 51A because the principal already has filed the 51a, because the parents reported the abuse to the principal, not the child. But, DCF and the DA's office wants the person who hears about the abuse first hand to file the 51A as well, that way there isn't multiple people talking to the victims or parents trying to get what they call minimal facts about the incident.

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Voting closed 13

Look at the Purdue family.

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Can you point me to the specific legal doctrine that protects them? Because I'm pretty sure it's not qualified immunity. I'm not saying that you are incorrect that some powerful private individuals also escape responsibility for their wrongdoing, but there is no such law or interpretation of law that I am aware of that is used as a blanket protection against employees being held accountable in the private sector.

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is to prevent the public sector professionals from being controlled by money. Fighting a lawsuit can bankrupt a person even if they win. Qualified immunity can be abused but it is there for a reason. It is meant to level the playing field.

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you're in favor of expanding qualified immunity to the private sector?

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really? off topic much?

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You’re the one who drove this thread to the private sector…

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nope

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What ages were these kids?

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It is important to note, 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. 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.

What part of "developmentally appropriate, swift action" is allowing a young sexual predator to keep sexually assaulting other children year after year?

Did BPS shuffle Ayla Gavins the rapist-coddling principal to another assignment, or is she in the rubber room?

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But not in Boston
The Farm School
New England Innovation Academy

I wouldn't want her near my children.

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I don't think that plays well even down on the farm

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Ayla was a coteacher in the 1-2 classroom during the 20-21 school year. She's not at the farm. She is back.

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I'm probably giving them too much credit but I'm reading into that wording as the predator and possibly the victims here might be a special needs students hence the "delicate" situation. Of course that excuses nothing and again I'm probably giving too much credit but that was my read of they might have hesitated to involve authorities.

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Thanks for nothing as usual BPS. All they do is try to cover their own tracks, sweep everything under the rug, then deny,deny, deny when some brave enough person exposes their b.s. Then it's throw everyone under the bus time.

I have a special needs child who is now an adult who attended a summer school program through BPS for 2 summers before I was notified by mail that a staff person who was in charge of the class was put on leave & subsequently fired for sexually exploiting several students. Did not get any prior notice of allegations or anything before this letter, all seemed well prior.

Thankfully my child was not victim to that monstrosity but my heart still goes out to the other victims & families.

Thanks BPS for the still keeping the sweep it under the rug mentality but kudos to the good ones who do speak up - the good do outweigh the bad.

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Special needs or not, AJ doesn't get to assault other children and the school is obligated to report abuse and make any necessary accommodations to provide education to all the students in a safe environment through an IEP.

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I’m a parent at this school and I am hurt and furious. Families have been protecting the staff as BPS stepped in and who was protecting these children? Who else on staff was involved?

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As someone who worked in special education, that was 100% my initial take. This kid is diagnosed and receiving services and the school is struggling because the district always puts these kids in inappropriately non-restrictive environments because a higher level of care and supervision costs the district money. Schools are told to suck it up and deal with these kids who should be at a private facility (and similarly, given to facilities with a lower level of supervision than needed because locked facilities are even MORE $$$. Had a student once who continuously eloped because our facility was unlocked and nearly got hit by cars several times, once outran her support staff and got on an MBTA bus which DROVE AWAY, she was endangering herself constantly but her home district didn't want to pay for someplace more secure.)

There are so many kids out there who have severe mental/developmental/trauma-related issues who are in "normal" schools that are vastly underequipped to handle their needs in the name of $$$$ and it's honestly tragic. Those poor girls didn't need to be victims and the perpetrating boy clearly isn't receiving the therapeutic care needed to address his behavior, either.

However the principal's actions are unforgivable. Filing the complaints and getting the documentation on record is the ONLY way you can force the district to get this boy the level of care he truly needs. Why the HELL she was trying to keep everything nice and quiet until he aged out, I don't understand at all. Begs the question of if she was covering up for somebody (the parents??)

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Interesting that no adult notes that sexual aggression by a child is often learned behavior. A 51 a should have been filed to as if A.I was being abused in the communitty. Big fail here by trained licenced adults.

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That phrase 'developmentally appropriate' is a smokescreen. Our daughter was in a daycare when she was a toddler, and one of the other kids was a biter. When we complained to the director of the place, she said the behavior was 'developmentally appropriate' and that they were addressing the situation. Our daughter continued to be bitten. Then we found out that the biter was the director's child, and we promptly found a better daycare, where she never experienced that 'developmentally appropriate' behavior.

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Voting closed 32

It may be well worth reading the summary of allegations here to get a better sense of what is alleged: https://docs.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/massachusetts/madc...

This was not just two victims. It wasn't just the two plaintiffs and the "three other families" mentioned in the article. It was more than that. These are the just the ones involved in this suit.

Parents and at least one teacher did elevate this matter beyond the Ayla Gavins. The superintendent overseeing Gavins was notified. She appears to have done nothing more than to tell Ayla Gavins of the reports. The Governing Board knew. They took no action. A teacher filed a 51A and was fired for doing so. Mysteriously, DCF took no action. Parents who knew what was happening tried to address this horrific situation, but the teachers and leaders didn't just fail them; they thwarted them.

The "developmentally appropriate, swift action" that is claimed by Ayla Gavins was merely to move the assaulting student from classroom to classroom, enabling him to assault more children. One of the teachers who was willing to participate in this scheme was a teacher who later became a co-teacher leader. Others are still teaching in that school.

It is not the case that the "predator and possibly the victims here might be a special needs students hence the "delicate" situation", as suggested by one commenter. Using terms like "Delicate situation" were merely one of many condescending ways that Ayla Gavins would be dismissive of extremely serious concerns regarding the safety and welfare of children.

The level of awfulness at this school--awfulness that was perpetrated from top to bottom--is unbelievable. I watched with my own eyes, staff yell at and berate young children in public spaces in front of others; I witnessed a large male para-professional push a small crying child into a corner and lean his body against the child, pinning him there--still crying--while he dismissed other children to the bus; I saw a pair of classrooms that had been completely upended and destroyed by an angry student; I know that students were viciously bullied, beaten up, threatened, and assaulted at this school; I myself was punched by a student in the cafeteria as I walked my child to his/her classroom one day. I watched the principal rig governing board elections, ignore bylaws to ensure voting went her way; ignore parents concerns; and refuse to protect vulnerable children. I know that I am not alone in having seen and experienced this either. Dozens of families have left that school in recent years because they saw or experienced much the same, fought for safety and fought for change, but were stonewalled by the staff and they principal that they held so dear.

It does no good for anyone to say, "but my experience was..." or "I know them to be such good people..." It's time to step up and believe the victims. This is awful. So much other awful stuff went down in that school. It's time that people are held responsible.

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Voting closed 39

Are families who were more aware of what was going on letting other families know about what staff to look out for? I think that some staff were no doubt aware of and involved in what was going on, but some are new and oblivious. Who are the ones that families, and especially children, need to take care around?
I also suspect that not all staff knew what was going on, only having heard rumors at most. Ayla played favorites and had/has loyal teachers - others were left in the dark.
I'd like to see Ayla held accountable for inexcusable actions, as well as the other teachers involved - they failed everyone. Instead she sits on many boards and has a job at another school - I worry for those children and families.

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Voting closed 16

They don’t need their supervisor’s permission to file a 51A. The teacher who did and was fired needs to be reinstated and compensated. The ones who didn’t should be fired along with the Principal.

This is a horrific story of many adults shirking their duty to protect the children in their care.

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Voting closed 38

As someone who was sexually assaulted multiple times at school from maybe when I was 8 to 11, I wish I had parents like this and that I had told someone.

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Voting closed 33

I wish you had been helped when you needed it then.

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Can we have an idea of what ages we are talking about? K-8 is a huge spectrum.

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The accused was about 6 or 7 years old at the time. I believe the age was left out intentionally….so as to create an image in the readers mind of. Teen/tween rapist.

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Please show me in the attached documents where the kid's age was cited. I could have missed it, but, no, I wasn't trying to create some sort of impression, I didn't know.

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I found a document (which I had missed yesterday) that says A.J. and the two girls were all 4 and in K1 when one of the girls was first attacked (see my comment a few messages down below).

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At the poster's request, which I agreed to given the sensitivity of this whole thing. In the process, this took down some replies to those comments. I apologize for that, but the replies wouldn't make much sense without the original comments.

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Well, the deleted posts made no sense either.

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And may get $6,000 for being molested 3 times by my Boy Scouts of America... really feel for all.

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The case documents I looked at yesterday were vague about the ages of the children involved. One document I didn't download and read, though - a memorandum on behalf of Marty Walsh on why the whole case should be dismissed - states:

For the limited purposes of the instant motion, the City incorporates the facts as alleged in the Complaint. The Defendant adds the undisputed fact that all of the minors involved in this lawsuit were four years old during the 2014-2015 academic year (Kindergarten 1) and five years old during the 2015-2016 academic year (Kindergarten 2).

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Good work, thank you.

Puts things in a completely different perspective.

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