SMMUSD HDQTRS — Public school officials have rejected a claim for over $1 million in damages filed by the family of a Malibu High School student who says she was slapped in the face multiple times by her teacher for failing to bring a notebook to class.

Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Superintendent Sandra Lyon told the Daily Press Tuesday that the district would not be pay the student, Dionne Evans, $1 million for pain and suffering and another $10,000 to cover medical expenses related to counseling she says she received following the alleged incident.

A lawsuit for an unspecified amount of damages is expected to be filed soon on behalf of Evans, her attorney, Donald Karpel, said.

The former ninth grader filed the claim for damages with the school district on June 15. The district had 45 days to settle the claim by paying the full amount or working out a settlement.

“We didn’t expect them to [pay],” Karpel said. “This now allows us to file a complaint in court.”

In California, before a person may sue a public entity or a government employee, a claim must be filed within six months of the incident. There are very limited exceptions, however.

Evans alleges that on May 22 she was slapped multiple times by her teacher, Jennifer Gonzalez, in front of other classmates because she did not bring a notebook to school. Gonzalez allegedly walked up to Evans’ desk and asked her if she had seen the movie “Bridesmaids.” She then began slapping Evans, Karpel said.

In a scene from the movie, one character literally tries to slap some sense into another. To view the scene, go to www.youtube.com and search for “Bridesmaids Annie and Megan’s talk part 1.”

Lyon said earlier this month that the teacher gently patted the student and that there was no intent to harm her.

“The teacher was trying to encourage the student to give her best efforts in the last few weeks of school,” Lyon said, describing the incident as more of an innocent exchange rather than a frustrated, abusive outburst. “As far as we know, up to this point the student has had a very positive relationship with this teacher.”

Gonzalez was removed from the classroom while the district conducted an internal investigation. The teacher was let back into the classroom after the district determined nothing substantial had occurred.

The incident is under investigation by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

Karpel said his client is most likely going to enroll in another school this fall and continues to receive counseling.

“[The family] drove up to the school recently because another daughter was graduating and my client started crying,” Karpel said. “She took this very hard and still has some issues about it. This is a really good kid … just a sweet girl.”

kevinh@smdp.com

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