Family sues Bellevue School District alleging inaction on bullying, harassment

Jun 19, 2022, 11:03 AM | Updated: Jun 20, 2022, 9:14 am
(KIRO 7 TV)...

In November of 2021, hundreds of students walked out of Newport High School in the Bellevue School District (BSD) claiming neither the school nor the district had done enough to make a female student feel safe after she reported physical abuse by another student – an ex-boyfriend.

Now, that ex-boyfriend – identified only as C.A. in the lawsuit – and his parents are suing the district claiming “deliberate indifference” to the “bullying and more” he endured after what they say was a false allegation. C.A. and his parents say he was the actual victim and that the school and the district knew it, but failed to release the results of multiple separate independent investigations clearing him.

The family says this all started weeks before the walkout.

“My client and his girlfriend broke up after a standard typical high school relationship. She started to resent that and went to his car to look for earrings. He let her look. When there were no earrings, they started to go back to the school and she started hitting him yelling at him, and pushing him and he told her to stop. She wouldn’t, then he finally got away from her. He went to class, came back at the end of the day, and found his car vandalized. So he went to the office and made a harassment report,” the ex-boyfriend’s attorney, Yvonne Ward said.

The girl was then called to the office as part of the investigation, and according to Ward made unspecific allegations about their relationship, for the first time, according to Ward.

At that point, Ward says the school asked the teens to agree to and sign a no-contact order. Ward says her client was happy to sign but the girl refused, that’s when things escalated.

“She started her vicious campaign against him with false allegations, smearing him on social media, putting posters about him around the school, and eventually setting up a riot where she called him out by name and made defamatory claims which were proven untrue by multiple investigations,” Ward said.

“She was asked by all the investigators specifically what happened and she could not say anything. The only thing they got out of her was she believed he one time pushed her and, hit her in the arm with a laptop because they were arguing about a movie,” Ward said.

KIRO 7 reported, checking with the Bellevue Police Department and the King County Prosecutor’s Office. The police department said officers conducted an investigation and sent the evidence to the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office for review. A spokesperson with the Prosecutor’s Office said they went through the case and did not believe there was a crime committed. No charges were filed.

But C.A. and his parents claim that there was information that was never released, and in the meantime they allege the ex-girlfriend went on spreading the false allegation including blasting C.A.s name and the allegation through a bullhorn in the midst of that student walkout.

“I made a decision to show up and see what I could see,” C.A.’s father recalled in an interview with KIRO Newsradio.

“I lasted about 10 minutes before my son’s name was blasted across the school yard as an abuser, and I couldn’t really take it beyond that. And it didn’t look like this thing was coming. In fact, it was getting a little out of hand at that point. So I left to my car, and that’s right when my son called. And I just went and picked him up,” he said.

Ward says her client was terrified that November day.

“She caused a riot with her false accusation to the point where she got students riled up against my client. They were targeting him, pushing him, shoving him, he had to escape the crowd, get to a classroom and call his parents for help,” Ward said.

Despite the school telling the kids to stay apart and not post on social media about one another the girl continued to post for months after the break-up, C.A.’s mother says, then their friends would alert the family to the posts.

“She immediately went against everything that she was supposed to do and we were very concerned, we have so many emails back and forth with the school, asking them how they would protect him and deal with this for his safety,” C.A.’s mother recalled.

The family says that inaction and concern about their son’s future is what prompted the legal action.

“We’re doing this finally after 9-10 months of ongoing conversations with the school, we’ve been trying to work with them, and they’ve found his ex-girlfriend guilty of harassment, but they haven’t shared that [publicly]. And we are really trying to protect his safety and to get the truth out there so people know what actually happened,” C.A.’s mother explained, who also sees it as a missed opportunity.

“We are very disappointed that the district isn’t looking at this as an opportunity to teach children about false accusations of innocence until proven guilty. This entire fire was started by someone making an accusation that was investigated, found to not be true. And yet, there was nothing done about that and there was no teaching moment offered to the students to have them really check their own thoughts,” she added.

They’re also concerned about the impact to his future.

“We didn’t want this one-sided and frankly completely false thing to be the only thing that’s out there, at least now if there’s someone who’s doing an investigation, they’ll hear loud and clear that this may be one of the rare instances where it was a complete farce and there’s solid reasoning behind that and so that at least C.A. will have that in his defense and hopefully help counter any concerns that a potential employer or potential school will have,” said the teen’s mother.

C.A. says that time of education may have helped prevent what he says has been a harrowing experience.

“It’s terrifying. Every day I’m scared to go to school. The constant harassment, threats on my life from other students. Just all of that is terrifying and going to schools is 1000 times harder than it was,” C.A. said.

“Before it was fun to go to school every day now I wake up just dreading having to go to school. Worried about what’s going to happen next. I’ve lost friends,” said the teen.

He says his grades have also taken a hit.

So why not change schools?

“One of the very first things the school talked to us about was, ‘Oh, why don’t you just go to another school district?’ It’ll follow me though. That’s the thing. It’s all on social media. There’s videos with millions and millions of views about this. Things with my name are out there. I can’t escape this by just running away. I have to fight,” C.A. said.

Asked if he’s up to the task.

“Yeah, absolutely, I think it’s almost my responsibility to be that person to start the spark that will create the change,” C.A. said.

As far as what that change looks like, Ward says on top of figuring out why the District has not made public the results of multiple investigations and getting them all out are key, but that’s not all.

“Create a safety plan that will help my client but also force the school to change its policies to focus on student safety, rather than whatever its own political ambitions are,” Ward said.

Communications and engagement officer with Bellevue School District, Janine Thorn said the school district doesn’t comment on individual student records or ongoing lawsuits. However, she said in an email, “The district takes Title IX and harassment, intimidation, and bullying allegations very seriously.”

“This year, BSD students led the school community in constructive and productive conversations that highlight the opportunity to improve processes. Our students, educators, and school leaders are continuing to listen to each other and work together to learn and develop more transparent processes that support, honor, and empower them and their families,” Thorn said in the email. The district shared some of its recent changes in a school blog and YouTube video post in April, and shared the process it has gone through working with students and the community to update policies.

C.A.’s family says none of that has helped them.

“I think every day we hope it will go away. But the problem is, people know some false narrative and it won’t go away. So we’re trying to get the truth out,” C.A.’s mom said.

KIRO 7 also spoke with the attorney of the ex-girlfriend referenced in the lawsuit. The attorney is currently not named in this article to help protect the identity of the teen, who is also a minor. The attorney calls the complaint “victim blaming and shaming” and says there are many “untruths” in the suit

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Family sues Bellevue School District alleging inaction on bullying, harassment