(Editor's note: This article has been updated throughout.)
The Denison Independent School District has settled a federal lawsuit filed against it last year.
The parents of a special needs student at Denison High School filed a federal lawsuit last May alleging that a DHS employee manhandled their son while he was a student at the school and that the school had no system in place to protect the child from the employee.
Lisa and Brian Sexton said their child was in a life skills class on Dec. 17, 2015 when Denison ISD employee Mark Mask placed the child in a choke hold, applied arm bars to the child, threw the child on the floor and then dropped a knee on the child’s back with unnecessary and excessive force, throwing the child on the floor while his hands were behind his back so he could not break his own fall. The suit said two other DISD employees, who were not named in the filing, stood nearby and did nothing to protect or help the child.
In a hearing held Tuesday in Judge Amos Mazzant’s courtroom in Sherman, Meredith Prykryl Walker represented the district along with DISD board of trustee President Randy Sedlacek, and Anthony O’Hanlon represented the Sexton family. Ed Richardson represented the Sextons’ son, who has not been named in the suit.
Walker advised Mazzant that the DISD Board approved the settlement on Monday. Both sides asked that the settlement terms be sealed to safeguard the interest of the Sextons’ son. After some discussion, Walker said that while the district will comply with the request not to voluntarily disclose the terms of the settlement, it will have to comply with freedom of information requests to the extent required by the law.
The Herald Democrat has filed a freedom of information request with the district for the terms of the settlement.
The district sent out a written statement that said, “On May 1, 2017, a Special Meeting of the Denison ISD Board of Trustees was held in order for the Board to meet with its counsel to consider a possible resolution to the lawsuit brought on behalf of student B.S. After considering the terms of the resolution in executive session, the Board returned to open session wherein a motion was made to approve the resolution, which was unanimously approved by the Board members in attendance. While Denison ISD continues to deny any liability, it understands the importance of resolving matters to the satisfaction of all parties such that the District can continue the important business of educating the District’s students.
“The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause and, as such, the District cannot comment on the settlement other than to say that the parties reached a mutually agreeable resolution.”
O’Hanlon also sent out a written statement.
“From the beginning of this case, we believed that Denison ISD created an unnecessarily dangerous environment for its special education students,” O’Hanlon said. “Denison ISD hired a convicted felon, with a long criminal history, to work in the special education classroom with disabled students. The parents of those students were not notified. Those are facts. Now the damage is done.
“When this lawsuit was filed, we hoped to work with Denison ISD to come up with solutions to prevent this from happening again. The case is now resolved, and we are satisfied that future Denison ISD students will be protected. Denison ISD’s conduct, going forward, will determine whether it can regain the trust of parents, staff and students.”