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Jury awards $250,000 in local bullying case

Jury awards $250,000 in local bullying case


EUREKA — The family of a former student bullied and beaten on a bus on his way to school in the El Paso-Gridley School District has been awarded $250,000 in a civil rights lawsuit against the district.

According to a statement Tuesday from attorneys for the boy who was 13 at the time, a Woodford County jury found that bus driver James Roberts "acted with intentional disregard and indifference for the student's safety and well-being" and that the school district allowed the boy to be beaten and bullied.

The case was filed after a video surfaced in 2014 showing the student, who has a neurological condition, being beaten on the school bus.

On Tuesday, school Superintendent Brian Kurz called the former bus driver's actions "reprehensible," adding that with the conclusion of the case "we hope this young man can put this behind him and go on with his life."

The driver resigned as a result of the allegations, said Kurz. The student transferred to another district after the incidents, he said.

In a statement, lawyers with the Chicago firm of Romanucci & Blandin said the district initially denied the allegations that included the driver's encouragement of students during repeated attacks on the boy between November 2012 and May 2013.

The firm stated the district initially called the abuse "horse play" and that the student provoked the older boys who bullied him. 

"The bus driver lied to school administrators about reports of abuse during school van rides in an effort to protect the bullies from repercussions. My client’s life will never be the same,” said lead attorney Martin D. Gould.

The driver also helped students hide marijuana to avoid consequences at school, according to the statement. 

The verdict also "demonstrates why school districts must enact and enforce zero tolerance policies on the bullying and abuse of children, and that the community will not permit educators to make excuses to evade accountability and responsibility,” added co-counsel Nicolette Ward.  

The jury award is one of the largest returned in a bullying lawsuit in Illinois, said the family's lawyers.

Follow Edith Brady-Lunny on Twitter: @pg_blunny

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