Lawsuit cites negligence after disabled student assaulted

DOBSON, N.C. (AP) — A disabled student was sexually assaulted by a van driver because the North Carolina school system responsible for her transportation was negligent and systematically violated school policies, according to a lawsuit.

A hearing was held this week in the lawsuit, filed in Stokes County Superior Court in 2018, to deal with a motion seeking a ruling in the county school system’s favor without a trial, the Winston-Salem Journal reported Thursday.

Superior Court Judge Eric Morgan said he would issue a decision later.

Court documents show that a 20-year-old female student, described as having the emotional maturity of a first-grader, was sexually assaulted in 2015. The van driver, Robert Anthony King, 53, pleaded guilty to several counts of statutory sex offense and sexual activity by a custodian in 2016. He's currently serving a prison sentence of five to 11 years.

The dispute is whether Stokes County Schools should be held liable for the student’s sexual assault.

King was a driver for a nonprofit community action agency that had a contract to provide transportation for special-needs students. According to the complaint and other court documents, King said in a deposition that he sexually assaulted the student over multiple days.

School officials typically fill out a form that would indicate whether a disabled student needed a monitor on a bus or van. That form is supposed to have a parent's signature. But in Stokes County, attorney Kirk Sanders argued, school officials systematically ignored those forms.

Deborah Stagner, an attorney for the school system, argued there was no way that school officials could have predicted that the student would have been sexually assaulted. The agency that provided transportation screened all their drivers, including King, conducted criminal background checks and made sure that drivers had the proper licenses. Drivers all were trained, she said, on sexual harassment and told that they were not to touch passengers.