Changes made to teacher's lawsuit

Special education teacher Michelle Schmick has dismissed charges that the South Kitsap School District violated her civil rights.

Schmick’s lawsuit, filed in Kitsap County Superior Court last September, alleges the school district withheld information from her about a student she says attacked and severely injured her in January 2002.

At the time the lawsuit was filed, Schmick alleged the SKSD violated both her federal civil rights and state laws. In October, the case was moved to the U.S. District Court of Western Washington in Tacoma.

In January of this year, U.S. District Judge Ronald B. Leighton ordered that “the plaintiff may voluntarily dismiss with prejudice charges that the defendant violated her civil rights.”

Since the plaintiff dismissed the charges “with prejudice,” she cannot file the same suit again.

Judge Leighton then ordered the case remanded to Kitsap County Superior Court for “adjudication of (the) plaintiff’s remaining state law claims.”

The suit claims the SKSD violated the state law that stipulates: “All local governmental entities, whether acting in a governmental or proprietary capacity, shall be liable for damages arising out of their tortious conduct, or the tortious conduct of their past or present officers, employees, or volunteers while performing or in good faith purporting to perform their official duties...”

According to the suit, Michelle Schmick was escorting a developmentally-disabled student to the office at Marcus Whitman Junior High School when she says he physically attacked her “without provocation.”

Schmick says she suffered injuries to the head, neck, shoulders and back, and still suffers from depression, anxiety and emotional trauma as a result of the attack.

Schmick alleges the district was aware of violent tendencies in the boy’s past but “engaged in a pattern of concealment.” She claims the student previously attacked several other instructors and made threats to district personnel, saying he would harm others.

Schmick’s suit calls the district’s actions a “deliberate decision and intent to expose (Schmick) and other employees to a serious risk of bodily injury.”

Schmick claims medical treatment for her “permanent injuries” is ongoing. She seeks unspecified damages for medical expenses, trauma, loss of income and “loss of enjoyment of life.”

The school district declined to comment on the case.

Cheryl Bond of the South Kitsap Education Association (SKEA), the union that represents teachers in South Kitsap, said SKEA’s contracts with the school district have had provisions regarding notifying teachers of students’ behavior problems for several years.

“We do have in our contract that if the district receives information about a student who is enrolling that has been charged with various offenses, such as sex offenses or other violent offenses,” Bond said, “that the principal of the school involved must inform staff that will be interacting with the student.”

Bond said this notification process is just one part of what is known as a student’s “behavior plan.” Such plans help teachers, parents and the students themselves work together and keep troubled students in school.

“If there is a concern for the safety of the student or the teachers, a principal would create a behavior plan,” Bond said. “The staff works with the parents and other students, and is really expected have the right and the responsiblity to know what the threat or concerns regarding a student are.”

Bond said the union’s contractual agreements with the SKSD also provide that staff members who will have contact with a particular student have a right and a responsibility to be informed about a student’s behavior plan, and be allowed to give input on that plan.

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