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Friday, July 12, 2024 | Back issues
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District Cleared After Bullying Led to Paralysis

(CN) - A woman who says her son was rendered paraplegic when another boy threw him into a brick wall and lockers cannot blame the school district, a federal judge ruled.

Cheri Roquet sued the Central Columbia School District, several officials, and her son Sam's classmate and his mother, James and Tammie Kelly, last year.

The federal complaint alleged that the two middle school students had been coming inside from gym class on Sept. 22, 2009, when James threw Sam into a brick wall, chased after him, and flung him against lockers and a corridor wall.

Sam is now paraplegic as a result of the attack, according to the complaint.

Roquet said she had tried to separate the boys in the fourth grade, but that the school district let James bully Sam and other classmates "unfettered" for years.

School records dating back to 2007 allegedly showed 23 of James' transgressions, including times when he threw rocks and other objects at his peers, hit some in the head or eye, spit in others' faces, snapped someone in the face with a rubber band, body-slammed one female student and grabbed the bottom of another, pulled someone's pants down, and repeatedly pushed others.

James also used offensive and insulting language toward other students, once brought a live bullet to school, and told a classmate he wanted to rape her, according to the complaint.

Although James was often suspended and detained in and out of school, the district took "no action ... to protect Sam[] from ... bullying and harassment or to assist him with strategies to effectively deal with" the issues," Roquet claimed.

Rather the district allegedly told Sam not to "tattletale."

U.S. District Judge Matthew Brann dismissed the claims against the school district, but declined to rule on the Kellys' motion for lack of jurisdiction earlier this month.

"Regardless of the legal merits of her claims, Roquet is rightfully aggrieved by the calamity that has befallen her son, Sam," Brann wrote.

Roquet cannot pursue claims that the district affirmatively caused James' attack.

"To say that the school district defendants fostered violence by tolerating it merely ascribes a consequence to inaction; it does not establish affirmative action," Brann wrote.

Roquet also failed to support her claims by pointing to the district's failure to expel James or its placement of him in an unstructured and unsupervised setting, the court found.

"By failing to respond to James's history of violence and Roquet's separation request (i.e., by not acting at all), the school district defendants left Sam in no worse position than he would have been in had the danger James posed been completely unknown to the school district defendants and had Roquet never made her request for separation," Brann wrote (parentheses in original).

The judge later added: "Altogether, Roquet's allegations show that the school district defendants 'might have done more' to protect Sam from James, not that they 'created or increased the risk itself.'"

The court also dismissed Roquet's equal protection claim, holding that "the complaint does not reveal how Sam was treated differently from any other student in any way. To the contrary, the complaint would seem to go some distance towards undermining a charge of discrimination by showing that Sam was just one of many students whom the school allowed James to victimize, albeit with the most tragic of consequences."

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