$45 million jury award in alleged abuse by Malibu school aide

The family of two non-verbal twins has won a $45 million judgment against the Santa Monica-Malibu school system after filing a lawsuit alleging physical abuse at the hands of a teacher’s assistant who they said used hand sanitizer to treat the autistic child inflicting pain on children.

The school system declined to comment on the details of the civil case, but is weighing whether to appeal the size of the verdict or the verdict itself.

The teacher’s assistant Galit Gottlieb also did not want to comment on the advice of lawyers for the school system. District officials would not say if she is currently employed by the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.

The county hired Gottlieb as a paraeducator in 2016 to help special needs students, and she has worked with other students since the time of the allegations, according to county officials. County officials said they received no further complaints about Gottlieb, either before or after she worked with the twins.

After a teacher reported the alleged abuse to authorities in January 2018, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department conducted a health check at the home of Charles and Nadine Wong, the twins’ parents, but did not charge or arrest Gottlieb, they said County officials told The Times. Contacted Thursday, the Sheriff’s Department confirmed a health check was performed on February 1, 2018, but could not immediately provide additional information.

The ruling represents 23% of the district’s $196 million general fund budget. Though the district has insurance coverage, officials said the magnitude of the ruling could ultimately affect the school system, which has about 9,000 students and operates 18 elementary, middle and high schools and learning centers.

In their sentencing form released this week, an LA Superior Court jury concluded that 11 district employees “should have suspected child abuse or neglect” and “did not immediately report their suspicions of child abuse or neglect to the county department.” of Children and Family have reported”. Services. Additionally, the jury concluded that this failure “was a significant factor in causing damage.”

School staff are required by law to report suspected abuse and may be prosecuted if they fail to do so.

The jury also concluded that Gottlieb intended to threaten and hurt the children with behavior they found “outrageous.” The jury did not find that Gottlieb intended to cause “emotional distress.”

The damages will help the family and deter schools in the district and elsewhere from similar behavior, said Omar Qureshi, who represented the Wongs.

“The damages will help the twins with their future care needs and let this school district know that it should never cover up child abuse,” Qureshi said.

district superintendent Ben Drati said school officials take allegations of abuse and the welfare of children with special needs seriously.

“We are committed to ensuring that nothing of what has been claimed here happens in the future,” said Drati. “We must always examine our shortcomings, but we are also determined to protect the well-being of thousands of our future students and to ensure that an improper punishment cannot harm the quality of education for an entire generation.”

Attorney David German, who is also representing the family, said the district’s response to the ruling “shows a complete disregard for child safety. They contend that the verdict was not supported by any facts, but community members on the jury separately noted that 11 individual district employees had failed to report suspected child abuse when a reasonable person in their position would have done so.”

The incidents at the heart of the case occurred over a four-month period in the fall of 2017, when the Wongs said they noticed their sons’ behavior had deteriorated, according to court documents. The parents said the boys had become more aggressive towards them, their teachers and therapists.

The boys, who have a form of nonverbal autism, were seven years old at the time, and the Wongs said they’d made progress: attending birthday and Halloween costume parties, meeting with relatives and friends, and interacting with other Juan children Cabrillo Elementary School in Malibu.

The complaint alleged that Gottlieb, who was assigned to be the twins’ assistant, used inappropriate methods to control their behavior in the classroom and on the bus to and from school. Those methods included twisting their arms and applying hand sanitizer to the twins’ dry, cracked hands, knowing it would cause them pain, court documents said.

Some employees saw Gottlieb allegedly use the disinfectant as punishment or held up the disinfectant menacingly, scaring the boys into submission, court documents said. County officials had concerns about Gottlieb’s alleged actions and discussed the matter among themselves or even reported their concerns to supervisors, but no one reported it to the county or law enforcement as of early 2018, court documents said.

A bus driver first alerted the Wongs to her own concerns about the treatment of the twins, Charles Wong said.

“What upset me the most about it was not just that the abuse happened,” Wong said after the verdict, “but the school knew about it and hid it. People knew about it for months without telling us.”

In documents filed with the court, the county questioned whether hand sanitizer was ever used as a punitive measure. The district also argued that there may have been three documented incidents where Gottlieb allegedly held the disinfectant in a threatening manner. The district also questioned the bus driver’s account of the alleged use of unnecessary restraints and physical abuse.

The Wongs said that during the deputy’s eventual health check, they were shown a report submitted by a teacher in January.

The Wongs said their children have yet to recover and need to be transferred to a private school in the San Fernando Valley that specializes in helping children with autism. The Wongs said the family’s transportation services were recently suspended due to the school drivers’ failure to control their behavior.

The money from the judgment must be used to support the children’s ongoing education and health needs.

The lawsuit was filed in 2019 against the district, Gottlieb and six other district employees. The trial, which concluded in October, lasted four weeks and took place at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles.

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-11-04/jury-awards-45-million-over-alleged-abuse-of-two-autistic-students-at-malibu-school $45 million jury award in alleged abuse by Malibu school aide

Alley Einstein

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