The San Diego Unified School District has been ordered to pay more than $1.25 million in damages to a former student who was forced to urinate in a bucket after her request for a bathroom break was denied.
The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that a jury found in favor of the former Patrick Henry High School student involved in the 2012 incident. The girl says the incident led to gossip, lewd texts, depression and a suicide attempt.
“Something like this never should have happened to a 14-year-old girl just entering high school,” says the girl's attorney, Brian Watkins.
On Feb. 22, 2012, the student told a classmate in a 25-minute advisory class she urgently needed to use the bathroom, but was afraid the teacher wouldn’t give her a pass. Believing it was against school rules, teacher Gonja Wolf rejected the student’s request and instead showed her to a supply room adjacent to the classroom where she could privately urinate in a bucket and dump the contents in a sink.
The school district called the verdict disappointing and said it was determining whether it will appeal.
Lawyers for the district contended in court that the teacher never intended to embarrass the girl.
New to the campus at the time, 25-minute advisory classes were intended to provide study time and build relationships among students. Although teachers were told the short periods would be undermined by frequent bathroom breaks, the school expected them to use common sense, attorneys for the district had argued.
But Wolf took a strict interpretation of the rule and had recently bought a bucket to serve as a make-shift toilet in the case of a security lock-down. Once the Patrick Henry administration found out about the incident, Wolf was put on paid administrative leave and never returned to campus.
The school also told teachers that students should not be denied bathroom trips. Administrators apologized to the girl and her mother and extended offers of assistance. But once word of the incident got out, the girl was teased and forced to transfer schools twice, her attorney says. Media coverage of the incident scared the girl, who ultimately attempted suicide.
The jury awarded the girl $1.25 million in damages and $41,000 to cover past and current medical expenses. She is now 19 and is still in therapy because of post-traumatic stress from the incident.