Miami-Dade schools

Jury awards $5.25 million to boy in Downtown Miami Charter School sex assault case

 

dsmiley@MiamiHerald.com

A Miami jury on Tuesday awarded $5.25 million to a former Miami charter school student who said the elementary school was negligent in allowing an older boy to sexually assault him repeatedly at school.

The verdict follows two years of litigation between the boy and his mother with Downtown Miami Charter School and Charter Schools USA, which operates the school. The boy, now 10, alleged that he’d been assaulted at least three times at school and on a school bus, and that the school failed to protect him against further attacks.

“We’re very happy and the mom is overwhelmed, not so much for the money but because it vindicates her son,” said Jeffrey Herman, a prominent sex abuse attorney who has sued local school districts and the Catholic church.

Todd Ehrenreich, attorney for Charter Schools USA, said he expects to file post-trial motions challenging the verdict. One issue the school will raise: a Florida law limiting liability for charter schools to $300,000.

According to a civil complaint, the victim — whose name The Herald is withholding in order to protect his identity — was first attacked on a school bus in 2011. The boy, at the time 7 years old, said an older student, 11, forced him to perform oral sex.

The boy’s mother told the school’s principal and his therapist visited the school, according to court documents. But the bullying continued and the attacks allegedly happened twice more in a school bathroom.

Herman said the boy was so upset by the abuse that he tried to kill himself, at which point the boy’s mother removed him from the school.

The jury, in its verdict, ruled that Downtown Miami Charter School and Charter Schools USA were negligent in the attacks. School spokeswoman Colleen Reynolds said in a statement that the school was “very disappointed with the jury’s verdict.”

“The Downtown Miami Charter School always places the safety of our students and our higher academic excellence as our first priority,” she said.

Ehrenreich, the Charter Schools USA attorney, said shortly after the verdict that he respected but disagreed with the jury. He said Herman never presented real evidence of negligence.

“They couldn’t show when, where, why or even how anything untoward had happened at the school itself,” Ehrenreich said. “They had no idea other than some theory that something happened.”

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