HAMPTON — The parents of a special needs student at Kecoughtan High School are suing the city of Hampton and its school system for $7.5 million, alleging that "gross negligence" and staffing shortages resulted in their daughter getting sexually assaulted in a classroom last year.
The suit contends that a Hampton schoolteacher and another staffer knew the couple's autistic daughter required constant supervision. But in the morning of May 29, the suit alleges, the teacher went to a meeting and left the student alone in a classroom.
"While (the student) was left unsupervised, a male student came in and sexually assaulted her," said the suit, filed in Hampton Circuit Court by attorney Jeffrey A. Breit on behalf of the student's parents, Adam and Laura Ann Flores.
In an interview Friday, Breit added: "He was just walking by the classroom, sees her, and comes in."
The City of Hampton and Hampton School Board are accused of failing to provide adequate funding and staffing for special needs students "in gross violation of their duties to provide such students with a free appropriate public education."
Also named as defendants are Hampton City Schools as well as Kathleen Lassiter, a teacher at Kecoughtan, and Frances Brewster, a special education assistant.
The sexual assault, the suit says, was the "direct result" of the "gross negligence" of the city, School Board, school division, Lassiter and Brewster, wrote Breit, with the Virginia Beach firm of Breit, Drescher, Imprevento & Walker.
The city and School Board "failed to allocate sufficient funds for special education for the Hampton Public Schools on behalf of disabled students, in gross violation of their duties to provide such students with a free appropriate public education," the suit says.
Diana Gulotta, a spokeswoman for the school system, declined Friday to comment on the suit on behalf of the school system or staff. Hampton Chief Deputy City Attorney Jeff Sachs also declined to immediately comment.
Lassiter and Brewster couldn't be reached.
Police charged the former student, Joseph Aguilar Jr., now 20, with aggravated sexual assault on an incapacitated person, said Hampton police spokesman Sgt. Jason Price. A court hearing on that felony charge is set for May.
The Daily Press is not naming the woman — who is now 21 — because the newspaper's policy is not to name sexual assault victims. The paper is naming her parents, however, because they are seeking millions of dollars from the city and school division.
According to the lawsuit, the student has a low IQ and a level of autism that "significantly impairs her social and occupational functioning, her social interactions and her judgment" and her "ability to manage her person."
"Her attention is easily distracted, and she wanders off easily, thus making her vulnerable to people who mean to do her harm," the suit says.
The suit says that the student had an individualized education plan in place in which she was to be escorted "curb to curb" from home to school, and get her own assigned assistant throughout the school day. The lawsuit asserts that Brewster was to be her daily escort, but for some reason she "stopped meeting (the student) upon her arrival" at the bus stop at some point during the year.
Instead, the suit says, the student would walk from the school bus into school by herself, and find her way to Lassiter's classroom, where she was assigned the previous year. Brewster would meet her there and take her to her current classroom.
But on the morning of May 29, the suit asserts, Lassiter left for the meeting before Brewster arrived.
The actions of Brewster and Lassiter were "in reckless and willful disregard for her safety," the suit contends. Moreover, the suit contends a failure to allocate sufficient special education funds left the student "vulnerable to attack."