The mother of a Wichita boy is suing the school district after her son was allegedly attacked and seriously injured by classmates on a school playground.
The lawsuit claims that staff members at College Hill Elementary School “breached their duty of care and supervision … in multiple respects” during the time of the alleged attack in February 2016.
The case could have broad implications with regard to a school district’s liability for injuries sustained on playgrounds and its responsibility to protect students from alleged bullying.
The Eagle is not naming the plaintiff to protect the identity of her child, who is a minor. The boy, now a sixth-grader, was in fifth grade when the alleged attack occurred.
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Wichita school district officials said Friday that they are reviewing the lawsuit.
“Because it is an open legal matter, we will not be able to discuss the case with you further,” district spokeswoman Susan Arensman said in an e-mail. “The safety of our students is always a top priority in the Wichita Public Schools.”
According to the lawsuit, the boy was playing on monkey bars at College Hill Elementary, near First and Clifton, during afternoon recess on Feb. 18, 2016, when a classmate approached and “demanded that he get off the monkey bars so that she could use them.”
When the boy declined, the girl and two other girls pushed the boy to the ground, “held him down, and took turns kicking him violently and repeatedly in the stomach and groin area for a sustained period of time,” the lawsuit says.
“During the sustained attack, no staff member at College Hill Elementary attempted to intervene or stop the attack,” the lawsuit says.
It says at least two fifth-grade teachers and one or more aides or para-educators were supervising the playground at the time.
As a result of the attack, the boy sustained serious injuries and was permanently disfigured, said an attorney representing the boy’s mother.
The lawsuit, filed this week in Sedgwick County District Court, demands in excess of $75,000 for medical expenses and “past and future non-economic damages.”
In previous cases, school districts have pointed to the “recreational use exception” within the Kansas Tort Claims Act, which broadly insulates governmental bodies against liability for injuries sustained on public property such as playgrounds.
The Wichita mother’s lawsuit aims “to convince the courts that the immunity the district claims is overused,” said Blake Shuart, an attorney with Hutton & Hutton Law Firm in Wichita, which is pursuing the case.
“There should be no immunity when it comes to protecting our children from bullying and violence at school.”
The lawsuit claims that during the months leading up to the alleged attack, one of the girls involved had bullied the boy “on numerous occasions.”
“This was brought to the attention of College Hill staff, yet no intervention had taken place to prevent further bullying incidents,” the lawsuit says.
Following the attack, which occurred on a Thursday afternoon, the boy told a school counselor and his teacher about the attack and said “that he was in pain,” the lawsuit says. The school principal “was then advised of the attack as well,” it says.
However, “no staff member advised (the student’s mother) about the attack until the following week,” the lawsuit says.
“They weren’t watching out for him generally, knowing he had been bullied,” Shuart said. “Nor were they watching out for him at all in this case because this was an attack that was allowed to go on for some time.”
The boy’s mother filed a police report on Feb. 26, 2016 — about a week after the alleged attack. The report lists the offense as an aggravated battery.
Another “compelling part of the case,” Shuart said, is that the boy allegedly was attacked by three female classmates.
“A boy who’s taught not to hit a girl and not to raise your hands in violence against a girl,” Shuart said. “So he can’t protect himself. He can’t defend himself.”