12-year-old dragged by rope: intentional or merely an accident?

A serious injury to a little girl on a Texas playground has put a Waco school on the defensive.

Sandy Rougely and Kevin Parker are seeking three million dollars in damages after their 12-year-old daughter returned home from a field trip with a severe rope burn around her neck.  K.P. (initials are used to protect child’s identity) was a sixth grader, who attended Live Oak Classical School, located in Waco, Texas.   K.P., along with other students in her sixth grade class, attended an overnight school field trip in April of this year to Gerner Ranch in Blanco County, Texas.

According to the lawsuit filed, there was a rope swing hanging from a tree located on the ranch.  There was a second rope attached to the swing which was used to help the occupant swing.  The lawsuit states that three of K.P.’s classmates used the second rope to harm her.  They did so by yanking her to the ground while the rope was around her neck.

In the Fall of 2015, K.P. mentioned to her parents that she was being bullied at school

In an interview with The Dallas Morning News, K.P. said that she was helping swing the other kids and then she stopped to watch.  Seconds later, she felt the rope going around her neck from behind.  The rope pulled her so hard that she fell to the ground and was dragged backwards.

K.P. states that none of the students who witnessed the incident helped her.  She had to remove the rope herself.  When she turned around, she saw three boys and she asked them, “Guys did you do that on purpose?”  One of the boys responded, “No. Why would we do that on purpose?”  One of the three young boys involved in this tragic incident was the was the same boy that K.P.’s mother, Rougely, previously reported to Live Oak Classical School stating that he was bullying her daughter.

In the Fall of 2015, K.P. mentioned to her parents that she was being bullied at school, she told her parents about a incident in which a boy pushed her onto the ground.  Rougely expressed her concern, following this event, to the school.  Her concern was dismissed however, because it was “not malicious” in the eyes of the administration.  Rougely believes that the bulling her daughter experienced was downplayed based on email conversations between school officials concerning the earlier incidents of bullying.  She believes the bulling was the source that lead to her daughter’s current injuries.

One of the most alarming things about the rope incident was the lack of response and reporting from the school.  Rougely first heard about her daughter’s horrific experience when she returned home from the overnight field trip.  She initially thought her daughter was wearing a necklace.  She soon learned that a rope caused the marks.  “It looked like somebody ripped my daughter’s neck off and stitched it back together. The marks are still visible.”

Medical treatment was not sought for K.P. during the remainder of the fieldtrip.

After school officials and chaperones learned of K.P.’s injury, neither parent was notified.  After the incident took place, K.P. reported that her neck was hurting and a chaperone “put Vaseline on the wound and gave her Motrin.”

When looking at pictures of K.P.’s injuries, it is very clear that her injuries needed serious medical treatment.  Medical treatment was not sought for K.P. during the remainder of the fieldtrip.  It was only after Rougely saw her daughter’s injuries that medical attention was sought.  Rougely immediately took her to the emergency room when she returned from the ranch.

During the emergency room visits, the doctors performed a CT scan of K.P.’s spine because she had reported pain in her neck and shoulders.  The doctors prescribed her with prescription antibiotic ointment, ibuprofen, and an inhaler.  While at the hospital, Waco police officers took photos of K.P.’s injuries and advised Rougely to file an official police report.

Levi G. McCathern II, the family’s attorney says that K.P.’s parents are asking for three million dollars in damages to “cover the cost of medical expenses, physical pain, mental anguish, disfigurement, impairment, and loss of the use and enjoyment of life of their daughter.”  The lawsuit states that both parents are suing for such a large amount, not only to compensate for the victims in this case, but to “deter this type of egregious conduct from others in the future, and to serve as an example to all educational institutions that this type of behavior is unacceptable.”

The issue of race is also being raised because K.P. is an African American female and the three boys who were in close proximity after the incident took place were Caucasian.  Live Oak Classical School is a predominately white institution and K.P. is one out of only four African Americans who attend the institution.

The question surrounding the incident that took place at Gerner Ranch is whether the Live Oak Classical School took the appropriate action in responding to K.P.’s injuries.

Rope burns? Very few rope burn injuries result in a CT scan of the spine. 

There were no adult witnesses to the incident.  Once school officials and chaperones were notified of K.P.’s injuries, they responded.  According to McCathern, the school’s response to the situation was not sufficient due to the severity of the incident.

A day after K.P. returned home from the school fieldtrip, Allison Buras, who is the Dean of Live Oak Classical School, emailed Rougely asking her if she took K.P. to go see a doctor.  Buras, mentioned in the email that she was glad that one of the chaperones on the trip was a doctor, otherwise they would have taken her to seek medical help.  Also, in the email Buras described K.P.’s injuries as “rope burns.”

Rope burns? Very few injuries of rope burn result in a CT scan of the spine.  Rougely told The Dallas Morning News, that her daughter’s injuries can’t be explained by a “rope burn.”

T.J. Jones, an attorney who works with McCathern at McCathern’s law firm, told The Dallas Morning News that, he does not know how someone can look at K.P.’s neck, and the pictures that were taken, without thinking that it was anything but intentional. “Even if what occurred was an accident, the way the school handled the situation was ‘beyond poor.’”

“An accident” is exactly how the school is classifying to the incident that resulted in K.P.’s neck injuries.  In a statement issued by the school, they stated “Live Oaks takes the safety of its students seriously and is saddened that one of its family suffered an unfortunate accident and injury.”

The rope, when dropped, would have freely fell to the ground.  Due to the prior history of bullying from one of the students, K.P. believes that her injury was not an accident.  Since there were no adult witnesses, determining whether the incident was intentional or accidental will be difficult.

David N. Deaconson, who is representing the school in this matter, reported that he has already investigated what happened.  This investigation began only after the family’s lawyer contacted the school.  Deaconson told Huffington Post, that his investigation consisted of interviewing the students who were around when the incident took place and the chaperones and doctors who treated K.P. afterwards.  Deaconson claims that, based on the information gathered,K.P.’s injuries were caused by an “unfortunate accident.”

Regardless of who or what caused the rope to get around K.P.’s neck, Live Oak’s tone deaf response only amplifies an already horrific problem.

K.P.’s family and attorney are not buying the school’s responses to their claims.  There is no reason why K.P.’s parents were not contacted regarding their daughter’s injuries.  The family also claims that Allison Buras, the Dean of the school, did not look further into the incident after she gained knowledge about it.  Live Oak Classical School’s attorney claims the reason why Rougely was not contacted is because the injuries did not seem that serious.

Deaconson told Fusion, “The protocol of the school, at the time, was that parents would be contacted if it was a type of injury that the chaperone thought was serious.”  McCathern rebuts Deaconson’s statement and insists that due to the severity of the injuries K.P. sustained, along with the fact that no other children attempted to help her, makes it very hard to believe that it was really just an accident.  “Regardless of who or what caused the rope to get around K.P.’s neck, Live Oak’s tone deaf response only amplifies an already horrific problem.” –McCathern

The school also contends that K.P.’s lawyer is only raising the issue of race in order to take advantage of the situation for financial gain.  The school states that they take such accusations very seriously and denies that K.P.’s injuries were racially motivated or intentional.

Rougely removed K.P. from school shortly after the incident, the family attorney has arranged for K.P. to finish the completion of her school studies at home.  Rougely does not believe her daughter is safe at Live Oak Classical School.  McCathern believes that, “If it had been one of those kids on a full-rate tuition, the parent would have been notified immediately.  But she’s [K.P.] being held to a different standard.  They’re not treating these kids the same.”

Since the rope incident, Live Oak Classical School has made changes to its policy and is now contacting parents of injured children regardless of the circumstances.  Settlements between both parties have been discussed, but it is still unclear whether one will be reached.

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About Amaka Madu, Senior Staff Writer Emeritus (18 Articles)
Amaka Madu is a 2017 graduate of Campbell Law School and served as a Senior Staff Writer for the Campbell Law Observer. She is originally from Raleigh, North Carolina and graduated from The University of North Carolina at Charlotte in 2013 with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Political Science. Following her first year of law school, Amaka interned at the North Carolina Court of Appeals with Honorable Judge Tyson and during the second half of her summer, she participated in the Baylor Academy of the Advocate study abroad program in St. Andrews, Scotland. Amaka also currently serves as Secretary for Campbell University’s Black Law Student Association.
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