Guardian files suit against schools

Posted: March 16, 2013

The Winchester Star

HARRISONBURG — A city man has “had enough,” filing suit against Winchester Public Schools officials and alleging that they failed to protect his grandchildren — two disabled Handley High School students — from bullying and intimidation, and in the case of one of the students, assault.

According to the suit, filed Thursday and made available Friday in U.S. District Court in Harrisonburg, Robert Augustine of Winchester is seeking $150,000 in damages from the school division on behalf of his grandchildren. He serves as their guardian.

He alleges violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the American With Disabilities Act.

School officials were given a notice of intent to file the suit from Augustine on Feb. 20. That notice was filed as the lawsuit.

The suit states that one of the students was the victim of bullying, assault, intimidation and civil rights violations during the 2010-11 school year, continuing to the current school year.

“Although administrations, teachers, staff and servants of Winchester Public Schools were notified by the guardians, they failed to protect the student and cease the above issues,” the document states.

The suit also lists specific incidents from as late as Feb. 19 and 20, alleging “bullying, intimidation and cyber bullying by another student.”

“The administrators, teachers, staff and servants of the defendants failed to take action and protect the student,” the suit reiterates.

City Schools Superintendent Rick Leonard did not return a call seeking comment.

Augustine said during a phone interview Friday that the harassment against his grandchildren has continued for years.

“I’ve let it go and I’ve let it go and I’ve let it go to the point where I’ve had enough,” he said. “[WPS] just [doesn’t] deal with their problems; they just try to shovel it under the carpet.”

He said his grandson is autistic and has learning disabilities and his granddaughter is deaf in one ear, nearly deaf in the other and also has learning disabilities.

Augustine said students at the school call his grandson fat, taunt him and use him as a “punching bag.”

His grandson was in a restroom about six weeks ago when, he said, four boys walked in, kicked open the stall and started taking pictures of him.

When a vice principal at Handley was notified of the incident, Augustine said, he brushed it off and said they were “just messing around; after all, they’re football players.”

Augustine said that less than four weeks ago, his granddaughter was at lunch when two girls approached her, and one took a picture of her with a cell phone.

The girl then allegedly sent the picture to her boyfriend and insinuated that Augustine’s granddaughter wanted to do something sexual with the pair, according to Augustine.

He said administrators’ response to that issue was to suggest that the girl move her classes and lunch period.

“She’s the victim,” Augustine said, asking why his granddaughter should have to leave her friends and classes because of someone else’s actions.

He added that students continue to aggravate and intimidate the girl.

She once loved to attend school, Augustine said. “Since it happened, she doesn’t want to go to school; she hates the school.”

And since the other boys allegedly took a picture of his grandson in the restroom, “he’s freaking out.”

“This is not a frivolous lawsuit,” Augustine said.

The lawsuit states that both students have suffered emotional and psychological issues, and that they are under medical care.

“Both students are disabled and protected by the above laws and regulations,” the suit states.

— Contact Melissa Boughton at mboughton@winchesterstar.com