Friday, June 20, 2014
Dorchester District 2 has appealed a jury award to a teacher who was demoted from assistant principal after allegations she didn’t report suspected abuse.
For Mary Rita Watson, the $1 million award – in reality $300,000 because of a statutory cap – is sweet vindication, her attorney Gregg Meyers said.
“She was very relieved and appreciative that somebody finally heard her story,” he said.
That story, Meyers said, was one of “abuse of process.”
Watson’s lawsuit said the school district misused the legal system.
The district, however, wants the judge to review the verdict, something that’s “customary procedure when we disagree with the legal ruling,” according to spokeswoman Pat Raynor.
The case started in 2009, when a psychologist – a mandated reporter – reported that a patient told her she witnessed abuse of a special-needs student in a Knightsville Elementary classroom.
The school district later demoted the principal and assistant principal, and the sheriff’s office filed criminal charges against the two, claiming they had been told of the abuse but didn’t follow up.
But Watson’s lawsuit said the school district and sheriff’s office only became truly interested in the case after two parents – who also happened to be judges – got involved.
The paper trail showed that nothing much happened for three weeks, until an official got a call from a judge, Meyers said.
And then they kicked the investigation into high gear, he said.
In fact, they went completely overboard, Meyers said, going out of their way to throw Watson and the others to the wolves, publicly humiliating them by issuing a press release announcing their demotion and ensuring they were photographed in orange jail jumpsuits.
But Watson had said all along she was never told of the abuse, Meyers said.
In fact, as she was interviewed repeatedly, she stuck to her story and was never even told there were allegations she had failed to report abuse, Meyers said.
She didn’t realize investigators thought there was a problem with her story until it was too late, he said.
The irony, Meyers said, was that the district reassigned Watson – supposedly someone who cared so little about the welfare of children that she would ignore abuse – to teach in an elementary classroom.
Meyers said he’s OK if the district decides to pursue an appeal.
“If DD2 wants to add interest to the judgment, I’m OK with that,” he said.