Class Action Against Pomona School District Alleges Ongoing Abuse of Students with Disabilities
Los Angeles — Disability Rights Legal Center (DRLC), with Pillsbury serving as pro bono co-counsel, has filed a class action lawsuit against Pomona California Unified School District and the Pomona Special Education Local Planning Area (SELPA) for “willful failure to adequately report, document, respond to and prevent” physical and emotional abuse of two, and possibly more, students with autism who were under their care.
The class action, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, contends that district officials, teachers, classroom aides and health officers violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights, California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act and other statutes through a pattern of physical abuse and cover-up occurring since at least August 2013.
In addition to monetary damages, the suit seeks injunctive relief to stop further abuse of the plaintiffs and other students, and to enact policies designed to ensure all students receive full and equal access to district facilities, programs, services and activities as required by law, thereby improving the quality of education they have a right to receive.
The named plaintiffs are 9- and 12-year-old boys whose autism severely restricts their ability to communicate; other students with disabilities are thought to have experienced abuse as well. According to the suit, students suffered scratches, lacerations, bruises and even lost teeth, which school officials failed to report adequately or to explain to parents and to prevent from recurring. Inquiries by the named plaintiffs’ families were met with delayed responses from the school district or, in some cases, no response at all—a direct violation of California law requiring immediate reporting of instances of suspected child abuse.
Reportedly, on one occasion, two students without disabilities witnessed a classroom aide push the 12-year-old plaintiff against a wall and slap him across the face.
In addition to Pomona Unified School District and SELPA, defendants include the district superintendent and director of Special Education, special education coordinator, principals of schools attended by the two named plaintiffs, teachers, instructional aides and a health services assistant.
“California law has long imposed on school authorities a duty to supervise at all times the conduct of children on school grounds and to enforce those rules and regulations necessary for their protection,” the complaint notes. “The school district is liable for injuries which result from a failure of its officers and employees to use ordinary care in these respects.”
“The defendants, notably those who interacted on a daily basis with the students, preyed on them because of their disabilities, which is disability discrimination, and also because these children could not adequately report what was happening to them at the schools,” said Christine Scheuneman, a litigation partner in Pillsbury’s Los Angeles office.
“The district did not properly train or oversee abusive staff, and it conspired to cover up what was transpiring with these vulnerable students,” said DRLC attorney Elizabeth Eubanks.
Eubanks continued to explain that “parents of the two named plaintiffs were given the runaround or were rebuffed in their attempts to obtain meaningful information, including why their sons were returning home with bruises and scratches on their faces, necks and bodies. Eventually both boys began to display signs of emotional disturbance and trauma, such as excessive crying and loss of previously learned skills, and they have been prescribed anxiety and sleep aid medication.”
About Disability Rights Legal Center
Disability Rights Legal Center (DRLC) champions the rights of people with disabilities through education, advocacy and litigation, and maintains specialized programs that focus on areas of pressing concern. Its client base consists of people, including children and students, with all types of disabilities; those affected by cancer and terminal illness; and medically fragile children. For more information, please visit www.disabilityrightslegalcenter.com.