Wapato Middle School

Wapato Middle School

The family of a former Wapato School District student is suing the district on behalf of their disabled son over an alleged assault at Wapato Middle School in October 2019.

The parents allege the district’s negligence contributed to the student’s assault, which caused injuries serious enough to require neurosurgery. They also say the school failed to create a safe environment for him to return and retaliated against him for reporting bullying.

In records filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Washington, the school district denies the allegations.

The Yakima Herald-Republic is not naming the family because it doesn’t generally identify minors involved in legal proceedings or crimes.

The student now attends high school in a different school district. He has VACTREL, which involves a series of birth defects affecting his limbs and other body parts, as well as vision issues and limited neck mobility, and he sits with a hunch. The disabilities are clearly visible, the court records said.

According to court records, when the student was an eighth-grader at Wapato Middle School, he was the only student with a school-issued laptop, an accommodation for his disabilities.

The family alleges the middle school’s gym was not adequately supervised when students gathered for breakfast or to socialize before classes on Oct. 17, 2019.

On that day, according to court records, a group of students surrounded the eighth-grader and repeatedly touched his laptop despite being asked to stop. Unable to leave due to his mobility issues, the boy pushed the other’s hand away, making contact with his face in the process, according to the lawsuit.

The boy then punched the disabled student in the face causing his nose to bleed, before he was taken to the school office by two other students, according to court records.

The parents alleged that school staff were unaware that the incident, which was captured on video, had taken place until after the student arrived at the office.

The lawsuit argues the student was targeted by his alleged assailant because he is disabled.

The boy suffered serious medical complications, including a head injury that caused headaches, memory loss, fatigue and confusion, according to court records. The student also needed neurosurgery to fuse his neck and relieve pressure on his spinal cord after he sustained a compression fracture to his neck.

Since the incident, the student has suffered depression and anxiety, and twice attempted suicide, his family said in the lawsuit.

The family said the district neither took measures to ensure the student was safe when he returned to school nor properly investigate the incident.

They alleged the district considered the student and his alleged assailant equally responsible for what happened. The student was given a three-day suspension for the incident. The family argued this was retaliation for the student’s report of bullying.

The family also alleged that when the student sought a protection order against his alleged assailant in Yakima Superior Court, the district sent a representative to argue against granting the order. The district denied this claim in court records.

The family is seeking damages for the parents and the student for the injuries sustained, as well as the suffering the incident caused. They are also seeking coverage of their legal costs.

The Wapato School District provided the following statement regarding the lawsuit:

“While the District is not able to comment about the details related to this ongoing litigation, what we can say is that since the case was just recently filed we are working with legal counsel through the very early stages of responding to the filing. Safety is a priority for all students in the Wapato School District and we have confidence the judicial process will result in answering the questions that have been raised about liability cited in the filing.”

Contact Vanessa Ontiveros at vontiveros@yakimaherald.com.

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