A jury on Monday absolved Clovis Unified School District and a former teacher’s aide of liability in the alleged assault of a special-needs fourth-grader on a school bus in September 2013.
The Fresno County Superior Court jury deliberated about two hours before finding Clovis Unified not negligent in the hiring of instructional aide Spencer Perkins, who was accused of fighting with the special-education student. Perkins resigned from the school district two days after the Sept 17, 2013, incident.
The civil trial involved a boy who was identified in court only as Carson because he’s a minor. Both sides agreed Carson was born in December 2002 to a woman who was incarcerated for abusing alcohol and drugs while he was still in her womb. He then spent two years in foster homes before he was adopted.
At the time of the incident, Carson was 10 years old and attending Reagan Elementary School. He had an Individualized Education Plan because he had been diagnosed with obsessive compulsion disorder, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, court records say.
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Carson’s adoptive parents were seeking in excess of $1 million in damages from the school district and Perkins, court documents say.
In dispute during the trial was whether the bus incident caused Carson to suffer a mild traumatic brain injury and recurring headaches.
In defending Clovis Unified, Fresno attorney Benjamin Ratliff told the jury that Carson had behavior issues at school; he was known to spit, bite and stab people with pencils.
And when Carson was born, Ratliff said, the boy already had permanent brain damage from his biological mother abusing alcohol, cocaine and marijuana. Before the bus incident, Carson also was already developmentally delayed because he had been diagnosed with several disorders, including reactive attachment disorder, oppositional disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, Ratliff told the jury.
San Diego attorneys Carlie Bouslaugh and Allison Worden, who represent Carson and his parents, however, said the incident with Perkins caused Carson’s medical and psychological conditions to become more severe. Bouslaugh contended Carson suffered a mild traumatic brain injury and recurring headaches from the alleged assault. She said Carson also has post-traumatic stress disorder because every time he has a headache, he thinks of the bus incident.
A surveillance camera on the bus captured the incident.
After Perkins and Carson butt heads, Bouslaugh said, Perkins pushed Carson against the bus window. He then grabbed Carson by the back of his head and forced it between the boy’s knees, the lawyer said. Crying and screaming, Carson told Perkins to stop, but Perkins didn’t. At one point, Perkins used his left forearm to pin Carson’s head against the window. Carson’s head remained pinned to the window until the bus got to Carson’s home, Bouslaugh said.
Bouslaugh argued that Clovis Unified knew Perkins was not properly trained because three days before the bus incident, Carson’s teacher had removed Perkins from his one-on-one duties with Carson while he was at school. But Perkins was still allowed to ride the bus with Carson.
But the former aide said in court papers that Carson started the fight and that he rode with Carson on the bus for two days following the incident and nothing unusual happened. He also said in court documents that he had “received no training or instruction on how to restrain Carson or any special-needs student while on a school bus.”