Lyons Township High School has agreed to pay up to $158,500 to the family of a girl who was injured by another female student during a reported racially motivated attack in a South Campus hallway in April.
The District 204 Board of Education voted 6 to 1 on Aug. 15 to approve the settlement, although it does not appear that any lawsuit had been filed.
Board member Michael Thomas, who is the only Black member of the LTHS school board, was the only board member who voted against approving the settlement. Thomas declined to comment when asked by the Landmark why he voted against the settlement.
The attack reportedly had racial overtones. The victim was a 14-year-old freshman, who is white, while the alleged offender, a 16-year-old sophomore, is Black. Cellphone video of the incident viewed by the Landmark showed the 16-year-old ambushing the victim as she exited a classroom, dragging her by the hair and beating her for about 30 seconds. The victim did not strike back.
The Landmark is not naming the students involved because they are minors.
Some published reports have stated the victim had been warned that she would be attacked, and she reportedly informed school officials about those warnings, but was sent back to class.
Western Springs police arrested the alleged offender a few days after the incident and charged her with misdemeanor battery. The deputy chief of the Western Springs Police Department said she had no further information, but a spokesperson from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office told the Landmark that “no criminal petition was filed in Juvenile Court for the minor arrested. The minor was referred for diversion to the Juvenile Probation Department.”
The 16-year-old girl charged in the attack had complained earlier of being bombarded with racist tropes after she made a social media post about Black History Month in February.
In the days immediately after the attack, video taken by an LTHS freshman who could be heard egging on the attacker, went viral, especially on right wing websites. And the incident was used to go after District 204’s new diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives launched by Jennifer Rowe, the school’s director of equity and belonging, who was hired just prior to the 2021-22 school year.
The student who filmed the attack ultimately was charged with disorderly conduct.
The Landmark obtained a copy of the settlement agreement by filing a Freedom of Information request. The settlement requires LTHS to pay the victim’s family $125,000, make an additional payment of $15,000 for the victim’s post-high school educational fund, pay the victim’s parents $8,500 to reimburse them for expenses related to the attack and to reimburse the family up to $10,000, apparently for therapy or mental health sessions for the victim over a two-year period if receipts are submitted to LTHS.
The lawyer for the victim’s family, Anthony Stroth, who is a graduate of LTHS, declined to comment about the settlement. LTHS Superintendent Brian Waterman and school board President Kari Dillon also declined to comment. The agreement requires the parties to not talk about the settlement, and states that all the parents of the victim would say if asked is that “the matter has been resolved to the satisfaction of the parties” or words to that effect.
Shortly after the settlement was approved, LTHS posted a statement on its website titled “Recommendations and Plan for Response following April Incident.” The school had its law firm, Franczek, investigate the incident and the school’s response to it. The report was presented to the school board in closed session on July 6.
According to the report, the school’s policies on student conduct, bullying and harassment were up to date. But the report recommended that the school review and strengthen its practices and processes in three areas: the identification and referral of students at risk of engaging in behaviors that are harmful to the school community, the investigation and identification of misconduct and student monitoring and supervision.
As a result of the report, the school has adjusted staffing levels and increased video surveillance to increase supervision in hallways, cafeterias and other common areas.
“The district is committed to maintaining a safe and welcoming school environment for all students and families,” the statement on the LTHS website reads. “We are confident that taking steps to refine and improve existing practices in these three areas, along with our ongoing efforts to foster a culture where all students belong, will provide the basis for such an environment and assist our administrators and teachers in delivering support and services to students in need and at-risk.”
The student who was charged with battery did not attend classes in person for the rest of the semester following the attack, according to a student who had a class with her last year. There is no record that the student was expelled. Dillon, the school board president, told the Landmark that no students have been expelled recently.