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Albany bullying lawsuit settled
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MADISON - The School District of Albany's insurer will pay $50,000 to settle a lawsuit in which an ex-middle school student claimed he was bullied for 18 months while school officials did little to stop it.

The settlement between the school, EMC Insurance Companies, and the boy and his mother, was finalized July 25 by District Judge James Peterson.

According to the three-page agreement:

• The Arellano and Phebus law firm of Madison is to receive $17,103 from the settlement for its fees and expenses and $32,897 is to be paid into a trust account for the boy.

• The school district assumes no liability in settling the suit which was filed in November. The plaintiffs agreed to pay any medical insurance claims from the settlement proceeds.

• The parties agreed not to disclose the terms of any negotiations leading to the settlement without the written consent of the other parties.

According to the suit filed in federal court in Madison:

The boy was 12 years old in 2012 when he began attending Albany Community Middle School but his mental abilities were closer to an 8- or 9-year-old due to his diagnosed autism and Asperger syndrome. He also has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and takes psychotropic medications under the care of a psychotherapist.

He was placed in special education program and while he attended classes with other non-disabled students, various accommodations were made to his coursework to allow him be "mainstreamed."

Other students became aware of the boy's disabilities and accommodations. During a recess that October, a basketball was thrown at the boy, breaking his glasses and cutting his nose. Five boys laughed at the boys and mocked his disabilities calling him "retard" and "dummy."

The lawsuit claims his mother reported the incident to school officials, who promised an investigation but no witnesses were and took no further action taken. Three days later, the same group of bullies threw a basketball at the boy, which again broke his glasses and cut his nose.

To avoid harassment in the lunch room, the boy began skipping lunch and within a month lost 6 pounds. He began taking anti-depressant medication to cope with the continued bullying.

The mother continued to meet with school and district officials in attempt to halt the bullying of her son, according to the lawsuit. In response they:

• assigned an employee to daily ask the boy if he had been harassed;

• had an employee ride an elevator with him to ensure his safety but that stopped within weeks as the boy said it made him late for classes and the staffer did not always show up to accompany him; and,

• suspended a student for a day after the boy was pushed down a flight of stairs.

The boy's Individualized Educational Program, required for every special education student, was never amended to address the bullying that impacted his grades. The mother also gave the district a letter from two other parents who said the district did not address the bullying their children endured.

In its answer to the suit, the district denied the allegations that is was deliberately indifferent to any alleged bullying or harassment the boy may have been received. Also, the boy failed to first seek administrative remedies under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education before filing a federal lawsuit. Finally, the boy's claim is barred by statute of limitations.

The boy was homeschooled and began the next school year in another school district where he is not bullied, his grades have improved, and he has stopped using anti-depressant medications, his attorney, Kurt Kobelt, said last fall.