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March 14, 2003

Judge dismisses suit against deaf school

From: Oregonian, OR - 14 Mar 2003

HOLLEY GILBERT

VANCOUVER -- A Clark County Superior Court judge has dismissed a Tacoma couple's $3 million lawsuit against the state that claimed their son was raped while a student at the Washington School for the Deaf.

Judge Roger A. Bennett's late February ruling will be formally entered today.

The 1999 document was one of 10 lawsuits and one tort claim filed against the state in recent years alleging sexual or physical misconduct at the residential school on Grand Boulevard.

Five lawsuits are pending, including a Pierce County case that is being settled, said Bonnie Terada, an assistant attorney general.

Others also have been settled.

Leonard E. Aron left his job as superintendent at the school last month after more than 31/2 years of controversy surrounding the allegations. Although three students claim to have been assaulted since Aron took over in mid-1998, other allegations date as far as 1965.

Parents first publicly aired concerns about sexual and physical abuse and misconduct on campus in August 1999. The outcry prompted studies, investigations and evaluations.

The school, where about 100 students from across Washington are enrolled, is being headed by John Davis, retired Hockinson school superintendent, while trustees conduct a search for a permanent superintendent.

In his Feb. 25 ruling, Bennett said the plaintiffs' evidence was insufficient to back up their claim that their son, who was 12 at the time of the alleged rape in May 1999, was assaulted by another student.

Court rules would prohibit the admission of all the boy's statements, and no other evidence could prove that the state failed to protect the boy and so was liable, the ruling says.

Although the acts committed may have been "indecent," they fall short of being criminal, Bennett said.

Stephen L. Bulzomi, the Tacoma family's attorney, said he will appeal the ruling to the Washington Court of Appeals.

"What happened was wrong, and my client deserves some compensation," Bulzomi said.

In their lawsuit, the parents had sought $2 million for their son and $500,000 each themselves. Holley Gilbert: 360-896-5721 or 503-294-5900; holleygilbert@news.oregonian.com

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