District Settles Suit Alleging Sexual Abuse

Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, March 23, 2018

Hartford — The Hartford School District has agreed to a settlement in a lawsuit brought by the family of a former kindergartner at the Ottauquechee School who claimed that school officials didn’t do enough to keep the boy from being sexually abused and harassed by a classmate.

Richard Windish, the Woodstock-based attorney who represented the Hartford district, confirmed this week that the matter has been “resolved.”

He declined further comment, including how much the school district might be paying to settle the case.

The boy’s parents filed the lawsuit anonymously in July 2016 in U.S. District Court in Burlington. Attempts to reach their attorneys, Jerome O’Neill, of Burlington, and Jeff Herman, a Florida-based lawyer who specializes in sexual abuse cases, were unsuccessful on Friday.

Herman said in 2016 that the family sought “millions of dollars” in a settlement.

The family sued on three counts: Title IX, the federal law that bars sex discrimination in education; negligence; and loss of parental consortium.

“Mother Doe” and “Father Doe” alleged their then-5-year-old son, “John Doe,” was sexually abused and harassed by a fellow student at the Ottauquechee School during the 2012-13 school year. Despite repeated attempts to get the staff and superintendent to address the situation, the abuse continued, according to their lawsuit.

The family said it learned of the alleged abuse in April 2013 when the boy’s mother found a note written by another child that said “top secret” and “meet me at my cubby.”

When she inquired with her son about the note, he disclosed the abuse, which included incidents where the classmate placed his hands down the boy’s pants, the suit alleges.

The school district denied the allegations in its response to the lawsuit, which it filed in September 2016. Superintendent Tom DeBalsi previously said that he felt school personnel acted appropriately in regards to the matter.

DeBalsi this week also declined to comment on the settlement.

The case was slated to head to a six-day trial on Monday on two of the three counts.

In response to the district’s motion for summary judgment in November, the parents consented to dismissing the Title IX count in October. A court document in October indicated they were still pursuing claims of negligence and loss of consortium.

The parties met with an evaluator sometime this month and have agreed to a “full settlement,” according to a document filed on Thursday.

The family, who moved to Vermont from Florida so their son could attend a speech therapy program at the University of Vermont, waited years to file the suit because of the physical and psychological injuries the boy suffered from the alleged abuse, Hermain said.

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.