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Teacher’s lawsuit against school district set for trial

A lawsuit filed by a former special education teacher alleging the South Kitsap School District concealed the violent past of a student she says attacked her is scheduled to go before a jury next year.

According to the suit, Michelle Schmick was escorting a developmentally disabled student to the Marcus Whitman Junior High School office 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.

According to court documents, Schmick seeks damages of at least $35,000.

The trial has been assigned to Kitsap Superior Court Judge Karlynn Haberly and is set to begin in September of 2005.

Schmick filed suit in September of 2002, alleging the district knew of violent tendencies in the boy’s past — including that he previously attacked several other instructors and threatened to harm other personnel — but “engaged in a pattern of concealment.”

Schmick alleges the district concealed this information from her “because alerting teachers to the propensities of the student would have potentially complicated his enrollment, requiring more extensive and expensive monitoring.”

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

Last November, Judge Terry McCluskey ordered the school district to provide Schmick with copies of the student’s records and information, as she requested.

The school district declined to comment on the case.

Originally, Schmick’s lawsuit alleged the district’s behavior violated her federal civil rights as well as state laws, but the federal charges were dropped after the case was moved to the U.S. District Court of Western Washington in Tacoma.

In January of 2003, 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...”

At the time the case was filed, then president of the South Kitsap Education Association (SKEA), the union that represents teachers in South Kitsap, Cheryl Bond, 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 responsibility 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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