Federal Judge Favors Brevard County Board of Education and Two School Employees in $100 Million Lawsuit Filed by Family of Down Syndrome Student Whose Teacher Tied Mask to Face During 2021 School Mask Mandate made a judgment.
But Friday’s ruling leaves the door open for new lawsuits, with the family suggesting they will do so.
The October 2021 incident follows Sophia Bezera, then 7-year-old special needs student at Ocean Breeze Elementary School in Indian Harbor Beach, who came home from school with a mask wrapped around her head with shoelace-like strings. and made national headlines.
The teachers later told investigators that the mask would often fall off their ears during class, so they used strings through the ears of the mask and tied a ribbon behind the girl’s head.
A police investigation found no evidence of her being restrained or in pain, and found that the method used to secure the mask was recommended by Down syndrome advocacy groups.
The family’s attorneys filed a federal lawsuit in December 2021, accusing the teachers of child abuse and the school board’s negligence and civil rights violations. Former superintendent Mark Mullins and three board members who voted in favor of making masks mandatory, Jennifer Jenkins, and former board members Misty Belford and Sheryl McDougall, were also named. .
The lawsuit comes after separate investigations by Brevard Public Schools and the Indian Harbor Beach Police Department, as well as an investigation by State Attorney Phil Archer, both found the allegations of abuse to be unfounded.
U.S. District Judge Carlos Mendoza on Friday stayed a scheduled trial in the case and awarded defendants 12 of the 15 counts. The remaining three complaints were dismissed “without prejudice,” a legal argument meaning they could be refiled later.
His reasoning was unclear as of Tuesday, as the order containing the sentencing remained sealed. Throughout the lawsuit, several allegations were sealed by the court because they contained confidential medical information.
A synopsis of the order states that the court found there was “no intentional intent” to harm the girls’ teachers.
But while the federal lawsuit has ended, the ruling means that parts of the case could be rehearsed, perhaps in another court.
Lawyers for the family did not respond to messages, but there are signs they are not ready to drop the case.
In a May 15 blog post, Sophia’s stepfather wrote that some complaints were “unfairly dismissed.” He made explicit reference to the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, Perez v. Sturgis Public Schools, in which a Michigan student with a disability ultimately won despite losing in lower court.
Jeffrey Steele said, “Several indictments that appear to have been wrongfully dismissed due to administrative concerns, just as the Perez family found an unlikely savior in the U.S. Supreme Court (ruling 9-0). We hope that it will be returned to us.” The family used the crowdfunding site “GiveSendGo” as a lawsuit fund.
Jenkins, who has also been sued for defamation in a lawsuit after criticizing Steele’s account on Facebook, said there were “no winners” in the lawsuit.
“Innocent children have been embroiled in a political war at their own expense,” Jenkins wrote in a statement to Florida Today. “We appreciate the court’s thorough and comprehensive consideration of the merits of this case.”
Belford declined to comment on the matter, citing potential further lawsuits. McDougall and a spokesperson for Brevard Public Schools did not immediately respond to requests for comment, and Mullins could not be reached until the article was published.
The incident has become political fodder in a statewide debate over mandatory mask-wearing in schools, and was briefly mentioned by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. The Brevard Board of Education was one of 12 school districts to defy DeSantis’ executive ban on mask-wearing requirements during the 2021-22 school year.
The case also received special attention from Rep. Randy Fine, who used the incident to denounce the school board on the House floor, particularly Jenkins, who has had a longstanding feud with Fine. Fine declined to comment on the matter.
Steele, who used appearances on national news networks to raise more than $100,000 to fund his family’s legal battle, said aspects of his story conflicted with details revealed in the police investigation. Controversial.
The widely circulated mask-tied photo was revealed to have been staged by the Steeles a few days later, revealing that the family had never asked Sofia for a medical mask exemption. It turned out that it was allowed by the school order.
Steele, who called the mask a “Chinese passport,” said she didn’t know her school had one on Sofia, according to police reports. The police report said the teachers told police they had sent a note to each student informing parents that each student would be required to wear a mask.
Eric Rogers is a surveillance reporter for Florida Today. Please contact Rogers at 321-242-3717 or email@example.com.
http://rssfeeds.floridatoday.com/~/743645009/0/brevard/news~Federal-judge-puts-end-to-m-Sofia-school-masktying-lawsuit-%E2%80%94-for-now/ Judge Ends $100 Million Lawsuit Against Brevard Over Mask Wearing For Special Needs Students