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Teen With Palsy Is Awarded $300,000

August 15, 2000

SEATTLE (AP) _ A jury ordered a school district to pay $300,000 to a student with cerebral palsy who was subjected to teasing and physical abuse by a fellow student for years.

School personnel in the Stanwood-Camano district were negligent in supervision and caused Taya Haugstad, now 19, emotional distress by failing to do enough to protect her from harassment, a U.S. District Court jury decided Monday.

Testimony indicated that the boy used obscenities and insults like ``retard,″ blocked Haugstad as she tried to pass in her wheelchair and rammed the wheelchair into walls.

The result was a hostile learning environment that hurt Haugstad’s education, damaged her self-esteem and left her with post-traumatic stress disorder, her lawyers said.

According to the lawsuit, the boy began tormenting Haugstad in 1993, when she was in the fifth grade, and continued until May 1997, when he was arrested for investigation of harassment.

An out-of-court settlement was reached with the boy’s family.

``School districts need to be accountable,″ Haugstad’s mother, Karrie, said after the verdict. ``There are a lot of kids out there who are being harassed and tormented all the time, but they don’t make big waves. It has got to stop.″

Mark Northcraft, the school system’s lawyer, said the case would be appealed.

``I believe this was a sympathy award,″ Northcraft said. ``All of the people I have dealt with at Stanwood School District are good, quality, caring teachers. Every time something was brought to their attention about Taya and (the boy), they dealt with it.″

The jury also awarded Haugstad’s parents $10,000 for the impact on their relationship with their daughter but rejected claims under federal and state laws against discrimination based on disability.

Cerebral palsy is a condition in which a brain injury affects muscle control, including speech and movement.

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