Student With HIV Sueing School After Sex With Teacher

Nude MusicTRENTON, NEW JERSEY – The Newark school district lost its bid to block a lawsuit by a former West Side High School student who believes he contracted HIV during sex with his band teacher.
Citing “extraordinary circumstances,” the state appeals court ruled yesterday that Raymond Little can sue the Newark school district, even though he missed the legal deadline, because he was devastated by his medical diagnosis and ignorant of the legal requirements of filing a lawsuit.
Little, now 20, claims he had regular, unprotected sex with the teacher during his junior and senior years at West Side High in Newark. In May 2005, nine months after he graduated, Little tested positive for the AIDS virus.
Little claims Hassan Vann first attempted to seduce him in the band room at West Side High when he was a freshman. He said he told a guidance counselor, the school social worker and the principal that the teacher groped him, and asked to be transferred out of Vann’s class, but his request fell on deaf ears — an account that was later corroborated by the guidance counselor and the social worker.
Two years later, when Little was a junior, Vann, who was also the school’s band director, invited him to an apartment in Irvington where he gave him alcohol and “weed,” according to court documents. The two allegedly had sex regularly after that until Little graduated from West Side High in June 2004.
In May 2005, Little tested positive for HIV. At the urging of a family friend, and concerned that other students were at risk, Little said, he reported his illness and his past encounters with the teacher to the Newark school board. The school board notified Newark police.
Little had three months to begin legal proceedings against the school district. A Superior Court judge extended the deadline, but the school district appealed.
The appellate court agreed with the lower court that there were “extraordinary circumstances” and Little should be allowed extra time to file suit.
“(Raymond Little) was two months short of his nineteenth birthday when he learned that he had been injured as a consequence of his teacher’s conduct,” yesterday’s ruling states. “The unexpected news was that he had a condition that not only can lead to death but also carries a stigma.”
After the diagnosis, Little was “very distressed,” the court wrote. “He cried every day and rarely left his home. Family and friends cared for him. He felt like he was going to have a nervous breakdown and was preoccupied with thoughts of death.
“Although (Little) felt compelled to take action to protect other students by reporting to school officials and police, he was hesitant to reveal his HIV status,” the panel wrote.
Little was “unaware of the legal requirements” of filing a civil suit, the ruling states. He sought legal advice only after his name appeared in media reports, it states.
Reached at home yesterday, Little said: “I feel a lot better now that I know something will be done about what happened to me — that this won’t all just be pushed under the rug.”
Perry Lattiboudere, general counsel for the Newark school district, said he was not prepared to comment on the decision, nor speculate whether the district would now appeal to the state Supreme Court.
Lattiboudere said he needed to “read and digest” the appellate court’s decision, then get permission to comment publicly from Superintendent Marion Bolden.
Meanwhile, the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office has recently concluded its investigation of Little’s allegations.
“We have enough evidence to go to the grand jury,” said Assistant Prosecutor Mark Ali.
The grand jury will begin hearing the case on Sept. 11, Ali said. It will decide whether to criminally charge Vann.
Several former West Side High School students have told The Star-Ledger they were questioned by investigators from the prosecutor’s office and expect to be called to testify at the grand jury proceedings.
Vann could not be reached for comment.
Little, who lives in Newark with his older sister and her family, is receiving treatment for HIV and getting counseling for depression. He has good days and bad days, his lawyer, Richard W. Carlson, said.
“He’s waiting for his day in court,” Carlson said. “It’s the only way he’s going to find a measure of justice for the wrongs that were inflicted upon him.”
Vann, who left West Side High and was teaching middle school students in Irvington when Little came forward, was suspended with pay.
Department of Education spokesman Richard Vespucci said Vann’s name does not appear on the state’s most recent teacher list, which was compiled around the time Vann was suspended in October.
The state has no other way of tracking Vann to know where or if he is still teaching.
from The Star-Ledger

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