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Mt. Diablo Unified to Appeal Legal Decision in School Bus Case

District's counsel said paying off $1,085 is wrong action to take, given claimed innocence.

The Mount Diablo Unified School District is appealing a small-claims judgment of $1,085 found in favor of the parents of a 5-year-old girl who became lost when a bus driver did not drop her off at her regular bus stop.

"The suit was brought because the little girl was dropped off in the wrong location and was not left with a responsible adult," Judge Lowell Richards said. "It was a question of whether there was liability by the school district."

On Dec. 5, Richards found that there was sufficient evidence that the school district was liable for damages against A.J. Fardella and Lisa Della Rocca and their daughter, Isabelle.

Isabelle made it home that day, Oct. 5, 2010, after a woman found her and led her home. "It easily could have been a Dugard-type of scenario," Fardella said, referring to the 1991 abduction of Jaycee Dugard, then 11, from her South Lake Tahoe home.

"It was very fortunate that Isabelle found these people," he said. Fardella said that he and Della Rocca decided to file the case in small claims court as a matter of principle after Isabelle, more than a year after the incident, began exhibiting what Fardella says is post-traumatic stress disorder.

"We wouldn't have filed the lawsuit if she hadn't woke up one morning with a bad dream," he said. The school district has the right to appeal the decision, but when the appeal is heard in small claims court it will start as a new trial.

Evidence from the original case is admissible, however.

"It's an expensive proposition for the district," Fardella said when reached by phone this afternoon. "It's such a waste of public funds."

According to a contract approved by the school board, lawyers representing the school district are paid $185 per hour.

A KTVU report, however, said the district will be represented in this case by a private firm for a "symbolic cost of $1,000." 

"The child was dropped off in very close proximity to a residence in the company of other children and other adults," the school district's counsel, Greg Rolen, told KTVU News.

"It's a wrong thing to do -- to pay just to go away when you haven't done anything wrong," said Rolen.

Rolen, who oversees the district's transportation department, will not be representing this case because of a conflict of interest. 

Upon learning of the district's decision to appeal, Fardella fired off an email to the school board expressing concern that the appeal constitutes harassment.

"What makes this especially poignant is that the appeal was filed just three days before Christmas and in retaliation for our contacting the school board and the press on December 21st with regard to this matter," Fardella's email read.

The new case has a court date of Feb. 3 at 1:30 p.m.

Bay City News and Patch staff contributed to this report

Mom of the Horde January 06, 2012 at 02:54 PM
There is no excuse for dropping a 5 year old off somewhere other than the priorly agreed upon location, and being with a group of other children is not a substitute for dropping her off at home.
Kathy D January 06, 2012 at 07:03 PM
I was a supervisor at a private school bus company for 15 years. Our policy with regular ed students in kindergarten or first grade was to drop them off at the designated bus stop with an adult (parent, sitter, grandparent, etc.). If no adult was present the student was taken back to the school so that school staff could contact their parents/caregivers. The kids were in a safe place. Special ed students were delivered to their home (or daycare) and also had to be received by an adult. CBS local news asked Greg Rolen about changes in the district's drop-off policy. Rolen said the changes (they were unspecified) were part of their continuing improvement and had nothing to do with this case.

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