School officials in Bedford, Iowa, knew a disabled student was being bullied but did not investigate, a lawsuit alleges.
The harassment led to the student being hammered in the head repeatedly by footballs on Oct. 11, the lawsuit says, causing “severe traumatic injury” to his brain and body. He was left with “physical, emotional, neurological and cognitive deficits that have rendered him permanently and totally disabled,” according to the suit, which was filed Friday.
The incident is being investigated by the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, which plans to turn over its findings to the Taylor County Attorney's Office, said Mitch Mortvedt, the division's special agent in charge for western Iowa. “It's pretty much in the final stages,” he said.
Bedford is about 100 miles southeast of Omaha.
Bedford Community School District Superintendent Joe Drake, who is named in the lawsuit, said he has been told by investigators that there was no wrongdoing by students or staff.
He would not elaborate beyond a statement, which reads in part: “Bullying and harassment of students is not tolerated by the district and student safety is always the district's first and most important priority.”
An attorney for the student and his grandmother filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa.
It says the student suffered the injuries on Oct. 11, 2012. But on “numerous occasions” prior to that, he was a victim of bullying because he had a disability. The suit does not specify the disability. But other students called him “stupid,” “dumb” and “retarded,” the suit contends.
The suit says school officials did not respond properly. Officials told the student that “they would look into the allegation or directed (him) to tell another teacher or coach or that they didn't want to be bothered and walk away,” the lawsuit states.
The incident took place at football practice, the scene of previous bullying, the suit says. The student was kneeling along the sideline when two players about six feet away repeatedly threw footballs at his head at high velocity, striking him.
Afterward, the student complained to his football coach, who said he would look into it but said he was sure the other students weren't trying to hurt him.
From Oct. 11 to Oct. 19, the student's condition deteriorated to the point that emergency care was required. He underwent surgery at Children's Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha, where doctors performed surgery to remove a blood clot near his brain stem. He remained in a coma for days and was eventually transferred to Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Lincoln.
His lawyer, Thomas Slater of West Des Moines, said that the boy has returned home but that his life has been permanently transformed.
“He is, we believe, clearly going to suffer the long-term effects of what is a serious traumatic brain injury from this,” Slater said.
The suit seeks compensation for past and future medical expenses, pain and suffering, loss of full mind and body and loss of earning capacity.
The Bedford district has an anti-harassment policy that prohibits verbal and physical abuse and requires the district to promptly investigate allegations.
Douglas Gentile, an associate professor of psychology at Iowa State University who studies youth aggression, said it is important to have such policies in place. However, he said districts must also be sure that the policies are followed. He is not familiar with the Bedford case.
“Districts certainly vary as to how well they follow their own policies,” he said.
This report contains material from the Associated Press.
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