MALIBU HIGH SCHOOL— A lawsuit filed by the parents of a Malibu High School student against the school district, several students, and parents alleges ongoing bullying against their son by his water polo teammates.
The suit, which was filed three months ago, claims that an 12th grade member of the water polo team repeatedly punched the plaintiff, a freshman member of the team, during a ninth grade PE class last November. The 12th grader was briefly suspended from the team, but was reinstated in time for a playoff game.
He was charged with battery, according to documents provided by the father of the alleged victim, and sentenced in a juvenile court to six months probation.
The suit claims there were several other incidents, including one in which the 12th grader rubbed his bare rear end on the alleged victim.
The name of the alleged victim is being withheld because he is still a minor. The name of the accused is also being withheld since the allegations were made when he was still under the age of 18.
Attorney Paul White, who is representing the accused, said that several of the incidents are fabricated. He said that the aforementioned punching incident was provoked and blown out of proportion. The battery charge, White said, is the result of the father “hounding the police.”
“This whole thing is much to do about nothing,” White said. “It was very minor horseplay among water polo teammates. It’s a heck of a lot rougher out in water polo practice.”
The lawsuit claims that Malibu High School failed to take appropriate steps to protect the alleged victim after the bullying incident. The lawsuit claims that the school gave into the demands of a group of parents and students who were abusing his son for reporting the incident.
“He was collectively punished by parents and students for reporting what this kid did to him,” the father said. “The week that the school did the right thing, when they kicked this kid off the team, all these parents started rallying behind and the students started rallying behind, and demanded meetings with the principal. They set up a meeting with parents who are not even related and then two days later I get an e-mail from the vice-principal saying, ‘We’re letting you know that this kid is being reinstated back on the team.’”
Citing ongoing litigation, the team’s coach, Mike Mulligan, and Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Superintendent Sandra Lyon would not comment on the incident.
Mikke Pierson, whose son played on the water polo team last year and who wrote about the team for Patch.com, said that the suspension was not revoked to win a playoff game and that the student didn’t enter the game until the fourth quarter when the game was effectively over.
“He was reinstated because the school did its investigation and made a decision based on it,” Pierson said. “There initial decision was to kick him out, but they hadn’t even interviewed anyone. Once they got further into it, they decided it wasn’t legitimate and changed their mind.”
Pierson said that the incident may have been overblown.
“Their was definitely an issue last year and allegations were made,” he said. “From where I sat it seemed like it was completely blown out of proportion. Like anyone, I’d be concerned with bullying. Was there horseplay going on? Probably. It’s boys water polo. I can’t imagine there wasn’t. I know the kid that was accused of it really well. He’s a hyper water polo player, but he’s not a bully.”
Donald Karpel, the attorney representing the alleged victim, said the school’s decisions did not appropriately punish those involved.
“The administration in reinstating the perpetrator just basically ratified the bullying,” he said.
Karpel said that school’s response to this incident is similar to its response to one in which a freshman alleged she was slapped several times in the face by her teacher. That case was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount. Karpel represented the student in the slap lawsuit.
“The only thing I see is, unfortunately, a reoccurring pattern of sweeping things underneath the carpet,” he said. “We need to keep throwing these things at them to keep at it.”