Woman sues school district

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A woman has sued the Steamboat Springs School District and four male teens, alleging that the teens sexually abused and harassed her developmentally disabled daughter for more than a year while all were students in the district.

The lawsuit was filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Denver. The woman and her daughter are identified only by their initials in the lawsuit.

The woman alleges the school district knew of the harassment, which reportedly occurred from the fall of 2001 through January 2003, but did not take appropriate measures to protect her daughter.

School district officials said Friday that they had not seen the lawsuit and that it would be inappropriate to comment.

The woman is being represented by Jack D. Robinson and Sabina Chung of Spies, Powers and Robinson P.C., a Denver law firm. They could not be reached for comment late Friday.

According to the lawsuit, the girl suffered a brain injury at age 3 that severely affected her cognitive functions, including reasoning and judgment. She enrolled as a seventh-grader at Steamboat Springs Middle School in the fall of 2000 and was determined to be eligible for special education services.

The lawsuit alleges the harassment began in the fall of 2001. The woman alleges the students, then eighth-graders, harassed and intimidated her daughter and forced her to perform sexual acts on them. The students allegedly threatened to tell other students that the girl was sexually active if she did not engage in oral sex with them.

According to a police report obtained by the Steamboat Pilot & Today, none of the alleged sexual acts occurred on school grounds.

The lawsuit alleges that the boys were aware that the girl had developmental disabilities. The police investigation, prepared by former school resource officer Jason Patrick, indicates students knew of the girl's disabilities.

The lawsuit alleges that at one point, the girl informed a school counselor that she was afraid of certain boys at the school and that the counselor was unresponsive to the girl's concerns.

The lawsuit states that several teachers were aware of rumors about the girl and expressed concern about her transition to the high school. However, the lawsuit alleges the school district failed to protect the girl, and the harassment is alleged to have continued at the high school in the fall of 2002. In January 2003, the girl reportedly told a counselor at the high school that she was being harassed, and the counselor notified police.

Patrick investigated the incident, interviewing several students who told Patrick they had heard students pressure the girl to engage in sexual acts with them. Several students told Patrick they thought the sex was consensual, the report states.

Patrick closed the report by stating that the mother had hired an attorney who advised her not to let her children speak to the police any more, effectively ending the investigation. The woman also pulled her daughter out of school at that time.

Patrick's report was given to the District Attorney's Office for review. No criminal charges have been filed in the case.

The woman alleges in her lawsuit that her daughter suffered two "psychotic episodes," one in February 2003 and another last summer, as a result of the harassment. After the last episode, the daughter was placed in a psychological hospital for an extended period of time before entering a residential treatment facility.

Steamboat Springs High School Principal Dave Schmid would not say whether the teens named in the lawsuit remain students in the district. He referred questions to Jane Toothaker, executive director of the Northwest Colorado Board of Cooperative Educational Services, which provides special education services for the Steamboat school district. Toothaker said she could not comment on the status of the teens named in the lawsuit.

The woman is seeking an unspecified amount of damages in the lawsuit, which states that her daughter's constitutional rights were violated and that the school district was indifferent to her daughter's plight and negligent in ensuring she was protected from harassment. The lawsuit accuses the four teens of sexual assault.

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