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Settlement looming in lawsuit alleging improper treatment of autistic student


A settlement between Rapid City Area Schools, its employees and the family of an autistic child appears on the horizon.

The parents of an autistic Knollwod Elementary student filed the civil suit against school staff, Rapid City Area Schools, the school board and the state Department of Education alleging the use of physical force to seclude the 8-year-old student.

The complaint, dated February 2022, focuses on multiple alleged incidents from 2019 claiming staff physically held the student and secluded the child in a corner of the classroom segmented off by dividers. The area, called “Hawaii”, was confirmed to exist by the defending parties, though they denied wrongdoing.

The family alleges on multiple occasions, anywhere between four and six staff members restrained the child for incidents like attempting to leave school grounds and becoming upset after being denied his preferred writing tool.

Family members previously described the space as a “makeshift animal pen” their child would be placed in for up to a half hour. The family sued the school and sought legal counsel.

However, late last month the family, employees and school district filed a joint motion to dismiss the lawsuit. The state Department of Education was not listed as one of the involved parties.

Before the case can be dismissed, a federal judge must independently approve the proposed settlement. The amount in that settlement is not public.

US District Judge Lawrence Piersol wrote this month that if an attorney representing the interest of the child and guardianship approve of the settlement as proposed the court would accept the settlement as in the best interests of the child.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering education, healthcare, arts and culture.