Ongoing coverage of child abuse in schools

LAUSD Ordered to Pay $6.9 Million in Molestation Case Verdict

The district will be responsible for a $3 million deductible in a case over sexual abuse

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    NEWSLETTERS

    A former Los Angeles Unified School District student was awarded a record $23 million in damages Tuesday for sexual abuse he endured at the hands of his elementary school teacher.

    A Los Angeles Superior Court jury deliberated for less than five hours before finding in favor of the teen, who was identified in the suit as Walter "Matt" Doe.

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    The lawsuit, filed on his behalf in October 2009, concerned abuse by Forrest Stobbe, the boy's fifth-grade teacher at Queen Anne Elementary School in the Mid-Wilshire area.

    Stobbe was sentenced to 16 years in prison after pleading no contest to criminal charges in the case in 2011. He had been arrested in 2010, when he was 39.

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    The jury on Tuesday apportioned 30 percent of the fault, or about $6.9 million to LAUSD. The remaining fault was apportioned to Stobbe, but he had been dismissed as a defendant in the case, according to the plantiff's attorney, Stephen Estey.

    The district will have to pay a $3 million deductible to its insurer, which will cover the remaining $3.9 portion of the award, according to Sean Rossall, a spokesman for LAUSD's Office of General Counsel.

    "The district is still evaluating whether an appeal is warranted in this case," Rossall said.

    Stobbe abused the boy 10 to 15 times in the classroom during the 2008-09 school years, and another five times during the summer of 2009, according to Estey.

    The district initially offered $25,000 to settle the case, increased its offer to $2 million just before trial, Estey said.

    "We're very pleased with the verdict," Estey said. "We asked for $25 million and we got $23 million. The district just doesn't get it when it comes to protecting kids.''

    LAUSD General Counsel David Holmquist said in a statement that the safety of children was the district's top priority.

    "We are all impacted when a child is hurt," Holmquist said. "We take our duty to protect our students seriously and are continually looking for ways that we can strengthen our screening and reporting processes to ensure that no child is ever hurt in this way. Although we can't change what happened in this case, we remain committed to doing everything in our power to promote healing and improve trust with those impacted."

    The district was recently faulted in a report from the California State Auditor that found LAUSD failed to timely report allegations of abuse, among other problems.

    And the verdict comes as the district is seeking to settle nearly 200 claims against it over allegations of abuse by teacher Mark Berndt at Miramonte Elementary School.

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