Geneva dad’s lawsuit alleges D-304 inaction on relentless bullying of autistic son

Federal civil rights complaint also names Geneva Middle School South officials

Geneva Middle School South

GENEVA – The father of a special needs seventh grade boy with autism has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Geneva District 304 alleging his son was a victim of long-term bullying despite numerous requests by the parents for officials to intervene.

The 51-page complaint, filed on Aug. 24 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, claims Geneva District 304 violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, due process under the 14th Amendment and alleges unlawful disability harassment under the Rehabilitation Act.

The Kane County Chronicle is not identifying the boy or his parents named in the lawsuit to protect the boy’s identity.

The complaint also names Geneva Middle School South Principal Terry Bleau and Assistant Principal Daniel Jones as defendants, alleging they did not follow the district’s code of conduct and bullying policies in regard to the boy.

The lawsuit alleges officials’ inaction resulted in the boy being “both physically damaged and, more significantly, mentally/psychologically damaged. … The District 304 personnel at GMSS were the adults charged with protecting (the boy), responding to his concerns and keeping him safe while he was in school.”

The stress caused the boy to suffer severe anxiety, stomachaches, headaches, vomiting, chest pains, emotional outbursts, excessive hand washing “to the extent that skin was coming off his hands,” and the stress caused the boy’s mother to have a stroke on Oct. 5, 2021, the lawsuit alleges.

“It’s a shame that it came to this,” the family’s attorney, Edwin J. Hull III, said. “We wouldn’t have taken these steps or be in this situation if district personnel had simply done their jobs.”

The lawsuit does not state an amount of damages being sought, outside of legal fees, compensatory monetary damages and other relief as the court deems.

“We haven’t put any dollar amount in there yet because the minor is still being treated and we need to see how that’s all going to end before we put an actual number on the case,” Hull said. “We don’t know what extent of injuries or damages will be.”

In addition to autism, the boy has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, an anxiety disorder and has a physical disability that affects his walk, according to the lawsuit.

In an email response, the district stated, “The district is committed to maintaining a safe, supportive and welcoming school environment where all students achieve academically, socially and emotionally. The district has not yet fully reviewed the federal court complaint, but will carefully analyze the complaint and respond through the litigation process. The district will not otherwise comment on ongoing litigation related to a student as it must maintain all student record and educational record information confidentially.”

Bullying, verbal assaults

In August 2021, the boy joined the middle school football team, where he was “harassed, bullied, mocked and criticized by other GMSS football team members” to the point where he feared for his safety, and at times this occurred in the presence of staff, the lawsuit alleged.

The bullying and verbal assaults continued throughout the season and after it ended despite his parents contacting officials multiple times, the lawsuit alleged.

Middle school students were invited to attend a Sept. 3, 2021, Geneva High School football game, where the bullying continued. Though the boy tried to walk away, “his football teammates increased their taunting, bullying and mocking,” the lawsuit stated.

Though he tried to walk away, “multiple GMSS students grabbed him and when grabbing him, they ripped his neck chain off,” the lawsuit stated. “When (the boy) went to pick up the broken neck chain, he was jumped again by some of the taunting GMSS students who were also members of the GMSS football team. … A friend helped pull (him) away.”

Jones told the father that they believed the other students “when they told him they were not doing anything wrong” and therefore nothing was going to be done, the lawsuit stated.

At an Oct. 4, 2021, meeting with Bleau, in which the father said the bullying and unfair treatment of his son must end, “Mr. Bleau stood up, kicked his chair and slammed his hands on the table that separated Bleau from the (parents), leaned forward and began yelling at (the father) and (the boy) about the bullying comments,” the lawsuit stated.

Injury during hockey

On Nov. 19, 2021, the boy was injured during a physical education hockey game in which another student purposely hit him in the shin with a hockey stick. Though an X-ray showed no broken bones, a doctor said the boy had a deep-tissue bruise and would have to be off his feet seven to 10 days, the lawsuit stated.

Jones later called the father and said the injury occurred because his son was not playing the game correctly, the lawsuit stated.

“The (other) student ultimately admitted to the PE game assault … with a hockey stick and informed Mr. Jones that it was retaliation,” the lawsuit stated.

The boy’s parents made 37 requests for a safety plan for their son to school officials during those fall months in 2021 and all were ignored, the lawsuit stated.

By January, the district proposed an inadequate safety plan, the lawsuit stated.

The safety plan “was very focused on keeping (the boy’s) father ... away from being physically present in the school building despite their knowledge that (the boy) requested that his father be allowed to be present and (the boy’s) statements that having his father present would make him feel safe,” if questioned about bullying issues, the lawsuit stated.

By mid-December, the boy did not want to attend school any more because he did not feel safe, the lawsuit stated.

By mid-February, the district threatened to report the boy truant, the lawsuit stated, though school officials knew from medical professionals why the boy did not come to school.

A therapist recommended homebound instruction for the boy because of his severe anxiety, the lawsuit stated, but the district refused.

The district told the parents that it would “discontinue any and all further instruction/educational services” for the boy on March 25, 2022, the lawsuit stated, contrary to state law requiring districts to provide free appropriate public education to all students, according to the lawsuit.