Court: District must reveal details on bullying settlement

$4.5 million was paid out after boy attempted suicide following abuse by other students

Posted: Thursday, July 01, 2004

ANCHORAGE - A state judge ordered the Anchorage School District to release details of a settlement reached with the family of a boy who attempted suicide after repeated bullying at his middle school.

The school district did so Wednesday: $4.5 million, including $1 million paid by the district and $3.5 million paid by its insurance company, First Specialty Insurance.

In issuing the order Tuesday, Superior Court Judge Sen K. Tan cited a 1989 Alaska Supreme Court decision, also involving the Anchorage district.

In that case, the high court "held that confidentiality clauses in settlements entered into by a public body are unenforceable," Tan wrote.

Tan also said the family of the juvenile gave consent to unsealing the settlement because they did not object to a request from the Anchorage Daily News to make it public and did not participate in the court proceedings.

School officials said in a news release the decision to settle the claim and the amount of the settlement was made by First Specialty Insurance. Superintendent Carol Comeau said that because damages sought by the student's attorney, Dennis Maloney, exceeded the district's $1 million self-insurance limit, the district was contractually required to give control of case decisions to the insurance company.

Maloney had filed an initial claim of damages for $33 million to pay for a life-care plan for the student. The school district was prepared to go to trial to defend itself against the allegations in the lawsuit, officials said.

The family of the boy has asked that he be identified only by his first name, Tom. The school district referred to him as T.F.

According to documents and testimony in the family's lawsuit, Tom was a 14-year-old eighth-grader at Central Middle School, gifted in math and science and fascinated by rockets and airplanes.

According to court records, the boy was picked on by other students both verbally and physically. Kids harassed him in the hallways, pushed him and knocked textbooks out of his hands, his mother testified. His clarinet was thrown into the trash. At least twice, boys accosted him in the bathroom, according to the lawsuit.

On Nov. 6, 1998, Tom strung up a rope at home and hanged himself. When paramedics arrived, he had no pulse. After 15 minutes of CPR, they got his heart going. But he had already suffered extensive and irreversible brain damage.

Today, his condition remains unchanged. He wears diapers, is fed through a tube and knows only a few words.

His family sued the district in 2000, accusing school employees of failing to do enough to stop the bullying. The confidential settlement was reached last fall.

According to the district, confrontations by Tom and other students did not involve repeated bullying by one or two other students. Tripping, pushing and name-calling involved various students.

"Occasionally T.F. himself instigated the confrontations. Other times other students were the instigators of this misbehavior. They were single-situation incidents and the students involved were given disciplinary sanctions," the district said.

School staff intervened and arranged a signal the boy could give anytime he felt unsafe at school, according to the district. At no time did school staff, his mother or his psychologist detect indications he was at risk for suicide, according to the district.

"Mr. Maloney's claim that the district is at fault for this tragedy is wrong, and the district was prepared to go to trial to prove its case," district officials said.

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