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Reported incident on abuse of student may lead to lawsuit; District receives notice

By Staff | Sep 24, 2008

The Lee County School District may face a lawsuit over an alleged incident of abuse involving a student at Gulf Elementary School.

On Tuesday night, Lee County School Board Attorney Keith Martin warned the five members of the board to discontinue discussing the alleged incident involving a 5-year-old autistic girl because the district had received a notice of claim.

“The district received a notice of claim this afternoon to file a lawsuit in respect to that matter,” said Martin.

He explained that petitioners, presumably the guardians of the Lee County student, only declared their intent to file a lawsuit, but it has unknown when the suit would become official.

The lawsuit could follow anytime between today and six months from now, he said.

Further, a notice of claim will give the district some time to decide whether they want to settle the issue or go to trial, Martin said.

According to public discussion at the school board meeting, the autistic student was allegedly abused physically and was photographed by police with bruises.

John Traube, a regular speaker at board meetings, said the problem is systemic.

“An autistic youngster was physically abused inside a Lee County public school,” he said. “Pictures were taken of the child and bruises. It seems to be systemic and this year the police had to be called.”

Traube, who formerly was head of the district’s substitute teacher’s association, has a reputation for speaking out against the district.

A Cape Coral Police Department report dated Aug. 20 describes school officials at Gulf Elementary “handling a student having an episode.” Details of the incident, including the student’s name and age, have been redacted because it involved a minor.

Traube referred to a district issue with “time out rooms” in 2007 when Cape Coral mother Kellie Elders observed her daughter being improperly restrained within one of these rooms.

Sub Jacobse, a district parent, said it is wrong for members of the public such as Traube to “get up to the podium and talk about generalities about what may or may not be true.”

“There is no end to defamation of character, we are rising to that level,” she said. “I won’t get sidetracked in allegations and rumors.”

Minutes earlier Tuesday night the board unanimously proclaimed Oct. 5-18 as “Disability History and Awareness Week.” Board Member Elinor Scricca and Dr. Carl Brunick, special education director for the school district, read aloud a proclamation on behalf of the disabled.

“I wish the good words that accompany this resolution were accompanied by good deeds,” said Traube.

Also Tuesday night, the board approved an extension of the current document that spells out services and instruction to special education students, even though the document expired at the end of the 2007 to 2008 school year.

District and state officials are working to create a new document.