California school district ordered to pay $45 million in sexual assault lawsuit

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — A jury has ordered the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District in Southern California to pay $45 million to the family of autistic twins who were physically abused and restrained by an aide at their elementary school.

The lawsuit, filed in 2019, alleged that district employee Galit Gottlieb used corporal punishment, including physical restraint and beatings, against two students with special needs while they were in second grade at Juan Cabrillo Elementary School in Malibu. Santa Monica Daily Press informed.

Last Thursday, a Los Angeles Superior Court jury ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. After the verdict, District Superintendent Ben Draughty issued a statement to the newspaper, calling the decision “unsupported by the evidence presented.”

“We care about our students, especially those with disabilities. We respect the legal process and recognize that the legal process is only the first phase. We look forward to continuing the process to ensure justice is served,” Drati said in a statement.

Charles and Nadine Wong’s lawsuit accused officials of inaction after county employees suspected abuse in 2017. The bus driver said she witnessed Gottlieb physically restraining the boys and punishing them by applying disinfectant to their cuts, according to the court document.

The twins, Christian and Christopher, do not speak and cannot tell their parents what is happening to them. But there were signs that something was wrong, including the boys’ unusually aggressive behavior, the Wongs said ABC 7 for a report that aired Monday.

“As a parent, you know something is wrong when your child treats everyone differently,” Nadine Wong told the news station. “You know yourself, you look at your child and you say, ‘What happened to you?’ But they can’t tell us.”

The district and Gottlieb were named as defendants along with several other school administrators.

District officials called for an independent review of the case and a jury verdict.

A spokesperson told the Daily Press that “any settlement in this case would be covered by insurance and not out of the district’s general fund.”

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