Wapato School District sued over student assault, disability discrimination

WAPATO, Wash. — Parents of a former Wapato Middle School student are suing the school district over claims school officials failed to protect their son, Drake Martin, from an assault targeted at him because of his disabilities.

The lawsuit argues that the school district may have been able to prevent the assault with disability education and additional supervision, but mainly takes issue with the way people in charge handled the case.

“It’s the district that’s responsible for the circumstances that allowed for Drake to be injured in the first place and for how they responded after that,” said Shannon McMinimee, who’s representing the family in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington.

Drake Martin Wapato

Courtesy: Martin Family

According to the boy’s father, Dave Martin, the incident occurred on Oct. 17, 2019 and involved Drake getting punched in the face while attempting to protect himself and his school issued-laptop from his classmates.

Drake has VACTERL, which the lawsuit describes as, “a non-random association of birth defects that affects multiple parts of his body, including limb abnormalities. He also has Klippel Feil Anomaly, which limits his neck movement.

“He’s delayed a little bit — that comes from living your first two years of life in the hospital,” Martin said. “And his vision? How he managed to see without glasses, we don’t know,” Martin said.

On the day of the assault, Drake was sitting on the bleachers in the gym before school with other students, using his school-issued laptop to finish homework for a class.

“And a group of three kids surrounded him and started trying to mess with the computer and Drake tried to defend himself and the computer,” Dave said. “One of the kids punched him in the face.”

Dave said the assault led to serious physical issues for Drake, including a concussion and damage to his neck that required him to have spinal fusion surgery, which took the range of motion in his neck from limited to almost nonexistent.

Later, Drake suffered a brain infection the family believes was tied to his injuries and required two open brain surgeries to fix. His father said they still don’t know how much permanent damage he might be facing.

“He almost died,” Dave said. “It was a good solid week-and-a-half where he didn’t know who we were, as his parents.”

At that time, McMinimee said he was the only student allowed a laptop, because it was a disability accommodation under his Section 504 plan.

McMinimee said the school should have know his visible disabilities and the laptop would make Drake stand out and possibly make him a target for other students. She said they should have had more supervision in the gym and especially, more eyes on Drake.

Wapato School District lawsuit

Source: Martin et al v. Wapato School District

The student who assaulted Drake ended up getting suspended, but Drake ended up in the hospital with a concussion and a compression fracture which required neurosurgery to fuse his neck and relieve pressure on the spinal cord.

“He’s lost almost all of his ability to turn his head,” Martin said. “And so, in order for him to look right or left, he has to completely turn his whole body.”

Martin said despite being the victim, Drake was also suspended and treated as a perpetrator. He said the school even sent a representative to court to tell a judge they shouldn’t grant Drake a restraining order against the student who attacked him.

“At the moment it happened, they treated this as two students who were engaged in some sort of mutual fight and that’s not at all what occurred,” McMinimee said. “And frankly, if any administrator had stopped and looked at the video, they would have made that decision really quickly.”

McMinimee said the school investigated and eventually determined Drake was the victim of harassment, intimidation and bullying, but not because of his disability.

“They didn’t understand the connection between the fact that he had the laptop because he was a student with a disability and he was targeted because he had the laptop,” McMinimee said.

In the lawsuit, McMinimee argues the school district’s actions violated Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Washington Law Against Discrimination, state laws regarding negligence, harassment, intimidation and bullying.

In court documents, the Wapato School District acknowledged there was video footage of an incident, but wholly denied all other allegations in the lawsuit, including that they were in any way responsible for what happened to Drake.

The district also provided affirmative defenses, including arguing that Drake’s injuries were “proximately caused by their own fault and/or negligent acts or omissions and failure to exercise reasonable care for his own safety.”

KAPP-KVEW reached out to the Wapato School District about his case and they provided the following statement:

“The Wapato School District recently received notification about a suit filed in federal district court regarding a student related altercation that happened three years ago (October 2019). While the district is not able to comment about the details related to this ongoing litigation, what we can say is that since the case was just recently filed we are working with legal counsel through the very early stages of responding to the filing. Safety is a priority for all students in the Wapato School District and we have confidence the judicial process will result in answering the questions that have been raised about liability cited in the filing.”

Martin said the school district provided Drake with a tutor while he was recovering from the initial assault, but he never felt safe enough to return. He transferred to the Zillah School District and is doing really well in classes, though he’s only able to go for a half day.

The whole ordeal, Martin said, has forever changed their family. He said the injuries, physical and emotional, have changed the way Drake sees the world.

Martin said when he and his wife took Drake in as a foster child when he was five years old, they never expected to adopt him a year-and-a-half later. He was a happy child, despite dealing with all his unique challenges.

“He’s an amazing kid,” Martin said. “He’s the kid that roots for the underdog, you know?”

But now, Martin said his son has withdrawn from the world around him, struggles to get through every day and has lost all trust in the world. Drake no longer believes in rooting for the underdog.

“Within the first year after the incident happened, he actually tried to commit suicide twice,” Martin said. “He just lost all trust in the world. He’s no longer the kid that’s rooting for everybody.”

In the lawsuit, the family asks for compensation for Drake’s extensive medical bills and for all the ways this experience has made a life already full of challenges, just that much harder. But Martin said their biggest goal is to change things for the better — with understanding.

“For the school to understand that they treated this kid wrongly and hope that it doesn’t happen to another kid down the road,” Martin said. “And that’s truly Drake’s wish, he said, so it doesn’t happen to anybody else.”

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