On Monday, New Times reported that the family of Michael Saphir, a mentally disabled alumnus of Cypress Bay High School, is suing the Broward County Public School District, claiming a district employee "masturbated" their son and continually sexually harassed him. That suit accused the district of hiding the Saphirs' claims from law enforcement.
As it turns out, that's not the only sex-abuse lawsuit the school district is fighting.
On March 9, a Margate family filed an anonymous lawsuit against the district in county court, claiming a Liberty Elementary special-needs employee kissed and sexually battered their 11-year-old autistic son. The suit claims Liberty Principal David Levine told both parents that he'd seen a video of the alleged abuse and had opened an investigation into the teacher's conduct. But when the parents tried to access the video, the suit says Levine somehow "failed to preserve" the footage. When the parents pushed back for more information, the suit claims the district instead punished their son and sent Margate Police to their home to intimidate them.
According to a sworn statement the boy's father gave in February, he noticed his son "had become more sexual and would often seem distressed" in the past several months. The boy had even begun peeing on the floor, and, according to the suit, trying to kiss other adults and "grinding/humping on his bed."
As it turns out, it may have been because their son was being abused. In October, the parents say Levine contacted them and told them a witness had come forward and alerted him that a special-needs instructor had sexually abused their son. "He further explained that he reviewed video of the incident and was very disturbed by what he had observed," the father's statement reads.
But after the parents spoke with both the school district and law enforcement, they claim they were never given any documents regarding their son's case, nor were they told who even reported the assault. So, the parents claim, they pulled their son from Liberty Elementary.
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At that point, the parents claim, the school district tried to "subdue, harass, and intimidate" the boy's parents. The suit says that the family was blocked from enrolling their son in a different school and that the district sent Margate Police officers and the Department of Children and Families to their home to intimidate them. The police claimed they "had reason to believe [the parents] were violent and a danger to [the boy's] welfare," the suit reads.
In the meantime, the parents claim the employee, whom New Times will not name until she can be reached, continued to have "unrestricted access to students" at the school. The family is now suing for $10 million in damages.
Broward Schools spokesperson Tracy Clark said the district does not comment on active litigation but did say the district removed the employee from Liberty Elementary on November 20. She also confirmed that the district is still conducting its own investigation into the alleged incident. Multiple messages sent to the family's lawyers were not immediately returned.
The suits have hit just as the district's police force, long accused of dragging its feet on important investigations, is undergoing serious upheaval. In February, the district assigned Jillian Haring, formerly a behavioral support teacher at Cypress Bay High School, to help overhaul the department's investigations unit. Days later, then-School Police Chief Anthony Williams resigned without explanation.