For Keys School Board, harassment lawsuit remains and PR job barely changes

The Monroe County School Board and a child's family hit a stalemate this week trying to settle a lawsuit accusing school officials in Marathon of punishing a girl for accusing a classmate of sexual harassment.

"No agreement was reached," reads a final mediation report made public Thursday in the case of Jane Doe No. 53, as the girl is identified in the suit filed last May at U.S. District Court in Key West.

On the one-page report, the mediator, Renie Diaz de la Portilla, did not check the option that the attorneys wished to continue mediation, which took place April 29 in Miami.

The School Board will discuss the case with its attorneys in a closed-door session Tuesday, before a public meeting at Coral Shores High School in Tavernier set to start at 3:45 p.m.

On April 26, the board quietly approved a $550,000 payout to the family of an autistic boy who said a former substitute teacher now in prison for child porn molested him in 2012 at Sugarloaf School.

The Jane Doe case had been set for trial on July 11 before Judge Jose Martinez in Key West but was frozen in February as the plaintiffs changed attorneys and headed into mediation.

The lawsuit accuses school employees, from the teachers and a bus driver to administrators, of ignoring the second-grade girl's reports in 2011 of a boy in her class groping her at times on a daily basis at Stanley Switlik Elementary in Marathon.

Teachers at times punished the girl for complaining, the suit claims, as the sexual harassment went on for two years until the girl left for middle school.

On Feb. 2, the family's original lawyers from the Herman Law Firm in Boca Raton asked to withdraw from the case, saying only that "irreconcilable differences have arisen which make it impossible" for them to continue representing the unnamed family in the suit.

At the time, 18 depositions had been taken by the plaintiff and 13 by the School District, with more in the works, including two sworn statements by children, according to court records.

On March 7, attorneys Brittany Henderson and Adam Horowitz from Fort Lauderdale took the case. They didn't return a message for comment. 

More PR job talk

For a third time in a row, School Board members will address Superintendent Mark Porter’s proposal to create a communications and community relations job at the district.

The job would pay between $63,000 and $85,000 and duties would include running the district’s social media strategy and providing “ongoing advice and counsel” to administrators and leaders, according to a revised six-page job description attached to Tuesday’s agenda.

The five-man board is divided over creating the job, with Vice Chairman John Dick calling it a terrible idea and member Ed Davidson pronouncing the job a “spin doctor.”

Advocates like member Bobby Highsmith say it would only help the district’s reputation by providing more information than provided by media. With member Ron Martin still on the fence, the proposal could have the three votes needed to pass.