The Grade Blog

Tuesday, Aug 12 2014 09:37 PM

KHSD board wants insurer held accountable in autism case

  1. 1 of 4

    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Kern High School District Board member Mike Williams addresses the Kern County Superintendent of Schools board meeting concerning Self-Insured Schools of California appealing a nearly $1.5 million verdict reached in a civil suit.

    click to expand click to collapse
  2. 2 of 4

    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Kern County Superintendent of Schools Christine Lizardi Frazier comments on Kern High School District Board member Chad Vegas' comments concerning Self-Insured Schools of California appealing a nearly $1.5 million verdict reached in a civil suit involving an autistic girl harmed in a high school bathroom in 2009.

    click to expand click to collapse
  3. 3 of 4

    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Kern High School District Board member Chad Vegas addresses the Kern County Superintendent of Schools board meeting concerning Self-Insured Schools of California appealing a nearly $1.5 million verdict reached in a civil suit. The appeal is against KHSD school board instructions. The civil suit involved an autistic girl harmed in a high school bathroom in 2009.

    click to expand click to collapse
  4. 4 of 4

    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Kern County Superintendent of Schools Christine Lizardi Frazier expresses her concern to the parents of a girl who was harmed in the bathroom of a local high school in 2009. Next to her is Michael J. Butcher, president of the Kern County Board of Education.

    click to expand click to collapse
BY LAUREN FOREMAN Californian staff writer lforeman@bakersfield.com

The Kern County Board of Education and superintendent said they have no jurisdiction in a civil suit against the Kern High School District involving an autistic girl harmed in a school bathroom in 2009.

Kern County Superintendent of Schools Christine Frazier said she finds the incident "unacceptable" and "despicable." But, she said at a Kern County Board of Education meeting Tuesday, the board has no right in the legal proceedings.

Frazier was responding to statements the father of the girl involved read during the public commenting portion of the meeting Tuesday.

KHSD board members Mike Williams and Chad Vegas also spoke out during that part of the meeting about defense tactics KHSD's insurance company used in the civil suit's trial.

Attorneys representing the company -- Self-Insured Schools of California (SISC) -- argued in court that the girl's disability prevented her from suffering mental harm from the incident and to prove their point, SISC investigators followed her into a Bakersfield Walmart in 2013 and a teacher photographed her in class without her parents' consent.

The child's father said Tuesday to the Kern County Board of Education that SISC "caused my daughter to be discriminated against" and "dehumanized as a person."

The Kern County Board of Education oversees SISC as the insurance arm of the Kern County Superintendent of Schools' (KCSOS) office.

"I am here because you are responsible for your employees' conduct," the child's father said. "The buck stops with you."

He asked the Kern County board to fire SISC representatives Ty Taylor and Rick Ruiz as well as Leonard Herr, an attorney representing KHSD.

Frazier said the board has no authority to fire SISC employees but she will evaluate their decision to videotape a minor.

She added, KHSD has focused too much on the civil suit and not enough on how it will change practices to protect students with disabilities.

"All this didn't happen because of surveillance because of an attorney, because of what happened after the incident..." she said.

Vegas -- president of the KHSD school board -- responded that KHSD has completely restructured its special education department and he promises to take KHSD board action to remove SISC if the company fails to "clean up its act."

"This is not a time to circle the wagons and hide behind legal technicalities," he said. "This is a time to clean house and take the necessary steps to protect our students and the taxpayers."

The bathroom incident occurred Oct. 15, 2009. Matthew Hoyt, a teacher's aide at Independence High at the time, found an autistic boy and girl naked from the waist down there at about 11:30 a.m.

The boy was "pressed against" the girl from behind, according to a police report Nov. 25, 2009. Administrators called the Kern High School District police but not the Bakersfield Police Department; it wasn't until about five hours passed that an assistant principal notified the girl's parents, at about 4:30 p.m.

The girl's parents first sued KHSD in September 2010, and the trial resulted in a mistrial.

The Californian is withholding their identities because of its general policy not to identify the victims or alleged victims of sexual assault.

In a second try at the lawsuit, the parents were awarded nearly $1.5 million for counseling and speech therapy for their daughter in May.

Board member Williams said during the meeting Tuesday that from the beginning of the case KHSD took "full liability" for mistakes it made and wants the legal case closed.

"Reaching a reasonable and fair settlement was the instruction given to SISC," Williams said.

Robert Kretzmer, SISC director of property and liability, told The Californian Monday that SISC declined a $225,000 settlement Kern County Superior Court Judge Charles Brehmer proposed March 7.

KHSD board members said they didn't know about the offer.

"We believed that the case was one that was very difficult to evaluate and that we weren't prepared to accept that figure for settlement," Kretzmer said.

SISC has spent $588,654 defending KHSD so far, Kretzmer said. KHSD's total premium paid to SISC for representation was $1.67 million in the 2013-2014 fiscal year.

Superintendent Frazier said she is more concerned about KHSD practices in place to keep students safe than she is about the settlement offer.

"Because to be honest, I do support taxpayers, but not at the expense of the safety of kids," Frazier said.

Have something to share? Comment on this story
Today's Daily Deal
from
Bakersfield.com
$24
Daily Deal Image
Nirvana Skin and Body
60 minute Hot Stone Massage for $24
  • Value
    $80
  • Savings
    $56
  • Bought
    1
Buy Now