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Bellingham Schools responds to civil suit complaint

BELLINGHAM, Wash. — Attorney’s for Bellingham Public Schools, named as a defendant in a lawsuit in US District Court filed on behalf of a former Squalicum High School student, have filed a response to the claims made in the complaint.

An attorney for a former Squalicum High School student filed a lawsuit in US District Court in Seattle naming Bellingham Public Schools the defendant to a complaint that alleges some school district staff failed to report to law enforcement her claims of sexual assaults by another student on school property, something they are required to do by law according to the complaint.

School administrators are deemed “mandatory reporters” and required by law to report such information when received.

The complaint says 3 administrators at Squalicum High School during January 2022 failed to report her claims of sexual abuse. The claims were made to the different administrators on separate occasions across a 3-day period. In 1 instance, the response from the administrator was to require the student to participate in what the administrator called a “restorative circle” which required the student and the alleged assailant be alone in a room and then told to “shake hands and you’ll be fine.”

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The response to the claim, filed in court yesterday, says they were informed in January 2022 of incidents that occurred in 2021 and were no longer occurring. The administrator asked the student and a guardian if they wanted to go to the police with the allegations and a voluntary “no-contact order” was put in place between the accused and victim. In addition, the district imposed “appropriate disciplinary action to remove [the accused] from the school environment.”

As to the claim of a “restorative circle,” it was denied to having been required. The victim had told a school administrator that she wanted to talk to the accused and a guardian gave consent for such a meeting that occurred in the administrator’s presence. The meeting ended with the 2 participating in a “fist bump.”

The student has since left “Squalicum High School because of the sexual abuse and lack of appropriate response from the defendant,” according to the complaint.

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The Bellingham Herald (paywall warning) reported 3 administrators involved have each been cited for failing to report the assaults, a gross misdemeanor, and ordered to appear in Whatcom County District Court.

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