Fresno 1st grader's sex assault leads to lawsuit

A special needs first grader, a secret hiding place, a sexual assault. Fresno Unified is facing a lawsuit saying they could have and should have prevented it.
May 9, 2014 12:00:00 AM PDT
A special needs first grader, a secret hiding place, a sexual assault. Fresno Unified is facing a lawsuit saying they could have and should have prevented it.

"They failed this little girl, they failed her miserably and there needs to be accountability for that," said attorney Kara Hitchcock who filed the lawsuit this week on behalf of the little girl.

The girl reported a year ago that two or three boys from the school led her away from the playground and forced themselves on her. Her attorney says King Elementary School's staff members knew something like this could happen, and they knew about the hiding place where it happened.

Away from the blacktop and playground where King Elementary School students gather for recess, past the still green fields, a single solitary backstop, designed to make baseball or softball games simpler. But for one 7-year-old girl, this backstop made life much more complicated.

"She was led all the way across the schoolyard, behind the backstop, and the sexual assault occurred," Hitchcock said.

The girl was a first grader at the time, a special needs student whose caretaker says she warned school administrators she was overly trusting and easily coerced. The lawsuit filed on her behalf claims the students in her special day class were supposed to be under heightened supervision. On the playground, they weren't supposed to leave the area covered in blacktop and sand. And according to the lawsuit, a teacher had warned administrators the backstop was a potential problem.

Legal analyst Jason Bell said, if that's true, Fresno Unified failed to reasonable care for the student.

"It happens and schools know that it happens so they need to be aware of these types of situations on their school campus that would foster this type of conduct," he said.

Bell said it looks like a tough case for the school district. When an Action News reporter asked for a possible defense, FUSD's administration chose not to comment because the lawsuit is ongoing.

Meanwhile, the girl's attorney says the school district needs to be accountable for putting students in danger.

"If this is the supervision they're going to provide to a little girl they know is at risk, what kind of supervision are they providing for the other kids who aren't at risk?" Hitchcock said.

The girl is still in school and still in Fresno Unified, but she's been moved from King Elementary to another school.


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