Overview:

The School District will appeal a $45 million judgement in a lawsuit brought against the district by the family of two special needs twins.

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) will be requesting a new trial in a lawsuit brought against the district by the family of two special needs twins who alleged abuse by a behavioral aid.

A Los Angeles Superior Court jury found in favor of the plaintiffs in October 2022 and ordered the district to pay $45 million to the family.

The lawsuit, filed back in 2019, alleged that Galit Gottlieb, a school district employee at Juan Cabrillo Elementary School in Malibu, used corporal punishment including physical restraint, physical abuse and intentional battery against the two special needs second graders. 

The incidents described in the case occurred during the 2017-18 school year and were initially reported by a bus driver at the District, who said she witnessed Gottlieb physically restrain and punish the students by putting hand sanitizer on their cuts to cause them pain.

Following the October decision, the District asserted in a statement that they believed the verdict “was not justified by the evidence presented.” The district again expressed this belief this week in the agenda for its upcoming Dec 15 School Board meeting. 

“The District will be seeking a new trial as a result of the verdict rendered in October of 2022,” it stated. “This is its first priority because the District believes the evidence simply does not support the verdict or the damages that were awarded.”

In the meantime, the District will be voting on a resolution at the upcoming meeting to allow them to pay out the $45 million in installments over a 10 year period rather than all at once, the reasoning being that a one time payment would result in “undue financial hardship on the District and its ability to provide services now and in the future,” according to the agenda text.

In the resolution and meeting agenda, the district makes clear they do not view this arrangement as an admission of guilt, but as a protective measure while they challenge the payment in court. 

“While the District is working with its legal team on the motion for a new trial and a reduction of the damages, it is incredibly important that the District take steps to protect the students and ensure that, whatever happens, we can always provide all the services they need in the future,” the agenda states. 

School Board members will vote on the resolution at the Dec. 15 meeting during which the two newly elected School Board members will be sworn in and an interim Superintendent will also be appointed. 

The meeting will also include a presentation from the Health and Safety District Advisory Committee about the fentanyl crisis along with recommendations for the District including making overdose kits widely available on campuses and educating students and staff about fentanyl, opioids and how to use Narcan, a drug capable of reversing overdoses. 

The Dec. 15 public meeting will begin at 6 p.m. Those wishing to comment virtually must submit an online form and those in person must turn in a request to speak card. The form and full agenda can be found on the SMMUSD website: https://simbli.eboardsolutions.com/SB_Meetings/ViewMeeting.aspx 

he Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District(SMMUSD) will be requesting a new trial in a case brought against the district by the family of two special needs twins who alleged abuse by a behavioral aid.

A Los Angeles Superior Court jury found in favor of the plaintiffs in October 2022 and ordered the district to pay $45 million to the family.

The lawsuit, filed back in 2019, alleged that Galit Gottlieb, a school district employee at Juan Cabrillo Elementary School in Malibu, used corporal punishment including physical restraint, physical abuse and intentional battery against the two special needs second graders.

The incidents described in the case occurred during the 2017-18 school year and were initially reported by a bus driver at the District, who said she witnessed Gottlieb physically restrain and punish the students by putting hand sanitizer on their cuts to cause them pain.

Following the October decision, the District asserted in a statement that they believed the verdict “was not justified by the evidence presented.” The district again expressed this belief this week in the agenda for its upcoming Dec 15 School Board meeting.

“The District will be seeking a new trial as a result of the verdict rendered in October of 2022,” it stated. “This is its first priority because the District believes the evidence simply does not support the verdict or the damages that were awarded.”

In the meantime, the District will be voting on a resolution at the upcoming meeting to allow them to pay out the $45 million in installments over a 10 year period rather than all at once, the reasoning being that a one time payment would result in “undue financial hardship on the District and its ability to provide services now and in the future,” according to the agenda text.

In the resolution and meeting agenda, the district makes clear they do not view this arrangement as an admission of guilt, but as a protective measure while they challenge the payment in court.

“While the District is working with its legal team on the motion for a new trial and a reduction of the damages, it is incredibly important that the District take steps to protect the students and ensure that, whatever happens, we can always provide all the services they need in the future,” the agenda states.

School Board members will vote on the resolution at the Dec. 15 meeting during which the two newly elected School Board members will be sworn in and an interim Superintendent will also be appointed.

The meeting will also include a presentation from the Health and Safety District Advisory Committee about the fentanyl crisis along with recommendations for the District including making overdose kits widely available on campuses and educating students and staff about fentanyl, opioids and how to use Narcan, a drug capable of reversing overdoses.

The Dec. 15 public meeting will begin at 6 p.m. Those wishing to comment virtually must submit an online form and those in person must turn in a request to speak card. The form and full agenda can be found on the SMMUSD website: https://simbli.eboardsolutions.com/SB_Meetings/ViewMeeting.aspx?S=36030435&MID=14503

Grace Adams

Grace Adams is a graduate of Loyola Marymount University where she studied Spanish and journalism. She holds a Master’s degree in investigative journalism from City, University of London. She has experience...