ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – As the largest district in the state, Albuquerque Public Schools has a daunting job, not just educating students, but making sure children don’t get hurt.
That means making sure classrooms are safe, floors aren’t slippery and playground equipment is sturdy.
In a lawsuit filed last year, one family argued the district did not do what it could to save a student from a dangerous situation that resulted in permanent disfigurement.
“I just went to go sit down,” said Addie Raymer, a student at Del Norte High School.
She described a moment three years ago that she will never forget.
“It’s going to affect her forever,” said her mom, Stephanie McGovern.
It was lunchtime at school, when Raymer said she sat by a friend on a heavy, concrete bench.
“It started falling, so I tried to catch it to lift it back up and it was too heavy. So, it just dropped, and I ended up pulling my fingers out from under,” Raymer said.
“When I saw ’em, I wasn’t sure that she’d even be able to keep her fingers with how bad they looked,” her mom said.
As a nurse, McGovern has been there for people through some of their most painful moments, but this was different.
“The only way to describe the pain of watching your child go through something like that is, it’s deep in your bone painful,” McGovern said.
Her daughter spent 10 hours in the hospital that day, undergoing her first surgery on her left hand.
“I remember the first question I asked was that if I was ever going to be able to wear a wedding ring,” Raymer said.
The family’s attorney told KRQE News 13 a settlement agreement has been reached with APS and companies associated with the selection, manufacturing and installation of the benches as part of a renovation at Del Norte High School. However, the amount of the settlement is confidential as it is still subject to the approval of a judge.Personal Injury Settlements in 2017
Last year, APS agreed to pay out settlements in 11 personal injury cases at a total cost of $337,000.
The cases include everything from bus crashes to parents and students slipping and falling on campus.
In the largest settlement of last year, the district said it paid out $99,000 for what happened at Volcano Vista High School more than three years ago. According to the lawsuit, a student was jumping hurdles in P.E. class and, because of where they were placed, he landed in wet grass, which caused him to slip and break his leg.
In another case, APS paid $35,000 after an Eldorado High School student was doing box jumps in P.E. in 2014 and fell back onto weights, breaking his wrist.
APS told KRQE News 13 it would not discuss personal injury cases, but we did talk with Chief Operations Officer Scott Elder about what it takes to keep the schools in good shape to prevent accidents from happening on campus.
“Upkeeping the maintenance in a district this size is massive,” he said. “It’s a 24/7 job.”
Day after day, more than 80,000 students file in and out of more than 140 schools throughout the city.
The district runs more than 400 buses a day and manages roughly 13-million square feet of instructional space.
“As a district, we would be the second largest city in New Mexico,” Elder said.
Technicians do routine checks of equipment and work to prevent some of the biggest hazards, Elder said.
“Like trip hazards, making sure your roofs aren’t leaking. You don’t want to have wet spots on floors.”
APS said last school year, it handled nearly 12,000 preventative maintenance tasks and that it is on pace to double that this year.
Elder said playgrounds are also a great example of preventative maintenance at work.
“Remember the old metal slides? And burning yourself sliding down in the summer? Yeah, that doesn’t happen so much anymore because the slides are made of different materials,” he said.
There’s newer equipment with more rounded edges that sits on top of wood chips or rubberized surfaces.
Dispute Following Bench Injury
Raymer’s family sued because they believe the benches the district had at Del Norte posed a danger from the start.
“We, you know, help take care of the school as taxpayers, and it was a huge letdown,” McGovern said.
They said they weren’t placed on level ground and were only bolted down on one side.
“I sat on the end where that metal piece was where it wasn’t bolted,” Raymer said.
In court documents, APS denies the bench was dangerous and denies negligence.
In fact, the district suggests Raymer may have failed to exercise reasonable care for her own safety.
What is undisputed is the lasting effect of Raymer’s injuries. She lost part of her fingertips on her left hand.
“I can’t do a lot of things with that hand. I’ve noticed I can’t really type,” she said.
That has made schoolwork tough.
In addition, after 13 years of ballet, Raymer stopped dancing.
“I realized like dancing and moving a lot kind of hurt it and just like my whole hand didn’t look the same,” Raymer said. “Part of ballet, like a big part of it is having elegant hands, and I didn’t have that.”
However, Raymer has other goals in sight.
She’s a senior now, getting ready to graduate high school and continue her education to become a nurse, like her mom, caring for others when they need it the most.People Behaving Badly?
Other personal injury lawsuits settled last year, had less to do with equipment failing and more to do with people suspected of misbehaving.
The second highest paid settlement last year was for $55,000 after a bus driver was accused of punching an Eisenhower Middle School student in 2013.
The student’s family said the bus driver “became enraged and violent” with the sixth grader.
“Several students were watching a video on the cell phone when the bus driver… blew his whistle, stopped the bus, got out of his seat and started yelling,” according to the lawsuit.
Then, the lawsuit states the bus driver “raised his hand in a fist punching [the student] in the face.”
APS also paid $8,500 last year after allegations that an APS police officer stood on the sidelines during a possible kidnapping in 2014.
According to the lawsuit, a father was at a park at McKinley Middle School with his 3-year-old son when, he said, a woman tried to kidnap his child. He said he could not chase the suspect because of his prosthetic legs, and he called out to an APS officer nearby for help.
The lawsuit states that the officer watched and did nothing as the kidnapper “threw [the boy] over a chain link fence.”
While the father tried to get to his son, the lawsuit said the suspect then stole the man’s car.
All the while, the father claims the APS officer “willfully failed to render aid and stop a crime in progress.”
Albuquerque Police responded and arrested Melissa Martin for the crime.
Court documents show she entered a plea of no contest for charges of child abuse, criminal damage to property and car theft.
An order of conditional discharge was filed, placing her on probation for five years as long as she is not caught breaking the law again.
She does not appear to have picked up any new charges since that order was filed in court in 2016.