Lawsuit claims Everett Schools didn’t protect bullied child as best as possible

EVERETT —  A new lawsuit against the Everett School District by the parents of a middle school student who was verbally and physically abused by his peers for being gay contends this is a discrimination case because, they say, the school district didn't protect their son like how they would with other kids.
The Oct. 18 lawsuit also argues the district didn't have strong enough systems in place to protect him from being attacked, and he was a victim of hate crimes against his sexual orientation and race.
In August, the district had denied Nicole and Doug Stanford's tort liability claim that made the same argument. The district says there was no discrimination because it took the same steps that they would have with any other kid facing the same bullying.
The boy's peers knew him already from sixth grade at Evergreen Middle School. They were his friends. What shifted, his parents said, is that he came out as gay before seventh grade started.
The target on his back became obvious. In the first week, a long-time friend turned on him and called him an anti-gay slur. The family's attorneys describe that a "mob of students" followed him and bullied him throughout the 2022-2023 school year.
"It never stopped, it never stopped," Nicole Stanford said in an August interview.
His parents say he underwent mental trauma from it.
He attends a different school today. Even so, the Stanfords said he'd prefer to be at Evergreen with his friends.
Fight videos shared to the Tribune show the boy getting hit and pushed. He responds to being hit by hitting back in each of the videos. In one, he's overpowered and pummeled. In another from April 2023, he was punched repeatedly.
The fight videos went on the internet— to Instagram and TikTok. The Tribune was told that other videos published shows students have attacked teachers.
The district investigated. Its attorney wrote in its claim denial letter that in some instances, the boy escalated some of the conflicts that devolved into physical fights.
Family attorney Sim Osborn said that's no reason to lay hands.
"Whatever the reason you don't like him is not a license to harm," Osborn said in an interview.
But the potentially million-dollar question is: Was he treated differently? The district says no, and asserts it worked to keep him safe.
In its claim denial letter from August, it said it hasn't been shown that the district discriminated against him, or that his identification as gay and part-Asian had
any factor in how they responded to the bullying concerns.
"The administrators at Evergreen Middle School have addressed every issue pertaining to (the child) in a prompt and appropriate manner, in an effort to keep him safe at school," the district wrote.
His parents said they couldn't get a straight answer on how the school district would keep him safe. Osborn said the school did little to keep the boy's attackers away from him.
The Stanfords pulled their son from school for a while. They said this got them threatened with truancy charges under the Becca Bill for his absences. But "he was scared," a parent said. "He was fearful to go to school."
At one point, school district administrators suggested he enroll in the district's online-only school.
The girls who attacked the boy were put into what's called in-school suspension, his parents said. It means they are inside the school, but being watched by district personnel.
The girls who had trouble with the boy also were placed in separate lunch periods. He'd go to their lunch period to be with his friends, the district said in claim denial paperwork. His mom said they'd visit his lunch period and follow him around looking to start something.
It was described that there was a group who’d revolve. When one got in trouble, another led the harassment.
Nicole Stanford said in an interview he's OK today, but not the same kid he was.
The family sought $20 million in the initial administrative tort claim which Everett Schools denied. The figure drew headlines itself.
How come $20 million?
It caught the district's attention for one, Osborn said.
The lawsuit in court seeks a trial where damage amounts are to be determined there.
The lawsuit is in Snohomish County Superior Court. As of Nov. 2, the school district had not yet filed its response to defend itself.
Beyond a lawsuit, Osborn said the family also wants a cultural change within Evergreen Middle School to clamp down on fighting.
"A kid has a right to have a safe learning environment," Osborn said. "How they do that also has to be in accordance with state law."
How the district is operating is not working, Nicole Stanford said.
Osborn said in August that he's been in contact with other families who hold similar concerns over their children, but wouldn't say if any of those contacts would eventually lead to a claim.