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Two families seek $4 million in damages after abuse by Seattle Public Schools staff

caption: South Shore PK-8 School in Seattle's Rainier Beach Neighborhood, on November 13, 2020.
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South Shore PK-8 School in Seattle's Rainier Beach Neighborhood, on November 13, 2020.
Jeremy Paley

Two families have each filed $2 million tort claims against Seattle Public Schools after their children were physically abused by staff members.

Both of the children are special education students, and were 7 and 9 years old when the incidents occurred.

The claims “reflect how Seattle Public Schools addresses really terrible physical violence by their staff against special education students - and, more importantly, how they don’t address it,” said attorney Shannon McMinimee, who represents both families.

One of the children involved was a second-grader at Stevens Elementary School last March when a security guard restrained her despite the girl’s protests that she couldn’t breathe. The district recently fired the guard after finding that he violated protocols by restraining the girl twice without good reason, and in an unsafe hold on the floor that is not allowed and can be fatal.

That student’s tort claim, which is a precursor to a potential lawsuit, also alleges ongoing previous abuse at the school, mainly in a special education classroom. Multiple staff members told KUOW they witnessed the girl, as well as other special education students, being isolated, restrained, and verbally and physically abused in manners that violate both district policy and state law.

Last February, the school principal had the police called to the school to address the behavior of the girl and several other children in first and second grade, who were, according to the 911 log, “running around and kicking the principal.”

“It should have never gotten to this point, really,” said Cinetra, the girl’s mother, who we are identifying by her middle name to protect the child’s privacy. “[The district] needs to be on top of things for the safety of the kids.”

Cinetra said she wants the claim to push the district to dramatically improve oversight of students in special education classrooms.

“I’m hoping they do more check-ins on folks who are working with kids, and that they take a closer look at everything that happened,” Cinetra said, “so this never happens again to other kids and families.”

The second claim was brought by the family of a child with autism. The boy was a third-grader at South Shore PK-8 School in 2016 when a school speech-language pathologist told police she had seen the boy’s special education teacher drag him back into the class bathroom where he was being confined. The specialist said the teacher then pushed the child onto the floor and kicked him in the chest.

A district investigation found the claims valid, and the district disciplined the teacher. She also faced an assault charge for the incident in Seattle Municipal Court. The teacher agreed to two years of probation and community service in lieu of a trial. She remains in her position at South Shore.

District spokesperson Tim Robinson said in an email that the district legal department is reviewing the claims, but that “it is too early to provide any further comment.”

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