First published in the Feb. 11 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
The Burbank Unified School District is appealing a 2021 ruling in which it was found liable for failing to prevent a bullying incident that resulted in the “severe injury” of an 8th-grade student in a physical education class at John Muir Middle School.
The student was awarded $1.75 million in damages in a jury verdict.
A John Muir P.E. teacher, Dylan Washausen, was found to have been negligent by the jury in the ruling. According to the plaintiff’s attorney, Janine Jeffery of the law firm of Reily & Jeffery, Waushausen was more than 200 feet away during a touch football game when the bullying incident occurred. In that incident, one student with a history of bullying shoved another student, resulting in a torn Achilles tendon.
The jury ruled that, in failing to inform the P.E. teacher of the history of bullying between the two students, school administrators did not carry out their state-mandated duty to prevent additional incidents from occurring, according to Jeffery.
Jeffery told the Leader that, despite earlier conversations between the district and the student’s parents, no documentation of bullying was carried out and teachers were not notified.
“That is a huge failing on the part of BUSD. If you don’t document an incident the first time, you can’t do proper follow-up or prevent other incidents,” Jeffery said.
Jeffery said the same was true after the student was injured and that the boy’s parents were not notified that the injury resulted from a bullying incident. Initially, the child did not want to talk about the circumstances surrounding his Achilles injury, and it took three weeks for his parents to learn the truth, according to court documents.
“We couldn’t get the help we needed from BUSD. My family and I felt that we had no choice but to file a lawsuit,” said the student’s mother, Kathy Baur, in a statement she read at a recent BUSD school board meeting.
“BUSD is appealing, and still refuses to take responsibility. … So much taxpayer money has been put toward defending this. It is my understanding that [the P.E. teacher] and [the involved administrators] are still working business as usual,” Baur said.
The Leader reached out to BUSD Superintendent Matt Hill for comment on the matter, but Hill said Friday morning he is unable to speak regarding ongoing litigation. BUSD did not confirm if staff members involved in the case are still employed by the district.
The case is scheduled to be reviewed in the appellate court, which may make a decision with or without oral argument, depending on the court’s discretion. No date has been set for those proceedings.