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December 28, 2004

Lawsuit alleges School for Deaf failed to protect students

From: Aberdeen American News - Aberdeen,SD,USA - Dec 28, 2004

Associated Press

PIERRE, S.D. - The parents of two students at the South Dakota School for the Deaf in Sioux Falls have filed a lawsuit alleging that state officials were negligent in failing to protect the children from abuse by an older student.

The lawsuit was filed in circuit court in Minnehaha County against the school; former superintendent, Jon C. Green; the state Board of Regents, which oversees the school; and Jack Rabbit Lines Inc., which transported some students from the school to their hometowns.

A 17-year-old student at the School for the Deaf abused the two younger students sexually and physically during the 2002-2003 school year, the lawsuit says. One of the students also was assaulted on a charter bus operated by Jack Rabbit Lines, the suit alleges.

The younger students were 12 and 13 at the time of the alleged abuse, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges that before the abuse, the two students had told school staff about improper contact by the older student. After disclosure of the abuse, Green failed to notify authorities promptly as required by state law, and the school failed to provide the abused students with appropriate medical care and psychological counseling, the lawsuit says.

Green is no longer superintendent of the school. After taking a sabbatical to research new education models for the deaf and hard of hearing, he recently was appointed a research professor for the Board of Regents.

James Shekleton, general counsel for the Board of Regents, said Tuesday that an attorney for the parents had previously made the same allegations publicly.

After staff at the School for the Deaf discovered indications of possible improprieties, they contacted authorities and put together a plan to help the students who might have been affected, Shekleton said.

"The bottom line is the School for the Deaf has been recognized as one of the safest schools in the nation," Shekleton told The Associated Press. "Some of the procedures they've put in place to try to supervise children have been cited as national models."

The lawsuit alleges that Green, the school, the Board of Regents and Jack Rabbit Lines failed to protect the younger students from abuse by the 17-year-old student. It also says the school failed to supervise the 17-year-old properly and failed to train its employees to provide proper supervision of students.

In addition, officials failed to report abuse to authorities, failed to provide appropriate counseling to the students and failed to establish appropriate policies and procedures, the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount of damages, partly to cover medical care and psychological counseling for the students who were allegedly abused.

© 2004 AP Wire and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.