Scales of justice

A family is suing the Albany County School District, saying that officials could’ve done more to prevent an alleged sexual assault of a then-6-year-old girl by another student on a school bus.

The lawsuit, filed in February, alleges that an 8-year-old male student sexually assaulted a first-grader during a 2014 field trip. The suit was originally filed against the district, two of its transportation directors and one of its teachers, claiming that the named officials “knew that (the student) had a history of harassment and inappropriate sexual behavior toward female students, and that he posed a substantial threat to the students.”

The named officials were eventually removed from the suit. In subsequent court filings, the district has denied the allegations. A message left for John Coppede, the district’s attorney, was not returned Tuesday. Tara Nethercott, the attorney for the victim’s family, declined to comment.

The male student, who like the victim is identified in court documents by his initials, allegedly had a history of “luring female students to put their heads on his lap; enticing female students to sit on his lap ... placing his hands between the legs of female students” and other inappropriate behavior, on the bus and elsewhere.

Bus drivers and at least one bus monitor were aware that the male student would “lure” female students to sit next to him and then place his coat over them both, the suit claims.

The student’s conduct was allegedly reported to first one transportation director, then his successor, and to the victim’s teacher, her principal and to the district’s assistant superintendent. In court filings, the district denies the officials knew of such behavior.

The male student was infatuated with and “constantly pursued” the first-grade victim whose mother filed the lawsuit, a fact that was known by bus drivers, the suit claims. He allegedly offered the girl money and gestured at her to get her to sit by him on the bus.

At least one driver allegedly told the male student to stop his inappropriate behavior. A bus driver — it’s unclear if it’s the same one — gave the student a designated seat, next to which no female student could sit.

“(H)owever, this mandate was short-lived and (the student) continued to verbally harass” the victim, the suit alleges.

In mid-February 2014, the girl “drew a ‘suicide calendar’ on her bedroom wall,” according to the lawsuit.

The then-director of transportation, Jeff Lewis, allegedly advised the bus drivers and at least one bus monitor that the male student’s school was aware of the harassment, the suit claims, but he took no other action. The victim’s parents were not notified of any issues.

In February or March 2014, she and the male student were sitting next to each other on the bus on the way to a field trip, according to the suit.

The male student then allegedly placed his coat over them both. The victim told him to stop, to which the student replied that they were playing a game.

He then allegedly forced her hand down his pants, then forced his hand down her pants and sexually assaulted her, according to the suit. The student told her that if she told anyone, he would kill her father, who is blind after sustaining wounds while serving in the Marines.

The victim’s “lived in a state of constant fear, mental anguish, and embarrassment,” according to the suit. She feared riding the bus and lost interest in school. Her mother contacted her daughter’s first-grade teacher and asked if there were an issue at school, to which the teacher — who allegedly knew of the student’s behavior — said there was not.

It’s unclear how the alleged assault came to light. The family now lives in Georgia. They requested damages related to the assault, according to the lawsuit.

In a subsequent court filing, the school district responded by saying that any damages “were caused or contributed to by the acts and omissions of others over whom the school district had no control or right of control.”

Follow education reporter Seth Klamann on Twitter @SethKlamann

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Seth Klamann joined the Star-Tribune in 2016 and covers education and health. A 2015 graduate of the University of Missouri and proud Kansas City native, Seth worked for newspapers in Milwaukee and Omaha before coming to Casper.

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