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.