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California school district ordered to pay $45M in abuse case

A jury has ordered Southern California’s Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District to pay $45 million to the family of autistic twins who were physically abused by an aide at their school.
law court justice file
Posted at 11:03 PM, Oct 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-25 02:03:32-04

LOS ANGELES, Calif. (AP) — A jury ordered Southern California's Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District 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 a district employee, Galit Gottlieb, used corporal punishment including physical restraint and battery against the two special-needs students when they were in second grade at Juan Cabrillo Elementary in Malibu, the Santa Monica Daily Press reported.

A Los Angeles Superior Court jury found in favor of the plaintiffs last Thursday. After the verdict, district Superintendent Ben Drati issued a statement to the newspaper calling the decision “not justified by the evidence presented.”

“We are committed to and care about our students, especially those with disabilities. We respect the judicial process and recognize that the trial is only the first phase. We look forward to continuing the process to ensure that justice is served," Drati's statement said.

The lawsuit brought by Charles and Nadine Wong accused officials of failing to act after suspicions of abuse were raised in 2017 by district employees. A bus driver said she witnessed Gottlieb physically restrain the boys and punish them by putting hand sanitizer on their cuts, according to court documents.

The twins, Christian and Christopher, are nonverbal and couldn't express to their parents what was happening to them. But there were signs that something was wrong, including unusually aggressive behavior by the boys, the Wongs told ABC 7 for a report that aired Monday.

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

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

District officials have called for an independent review of the case and the jury's verdict.

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