Jury rules Volusia Co. Schools not negligent in bullying case

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VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. - A jury ruled Volusia County Schools was not negligent Tuesday night after the family of Dondre Jones, a child with special needs, slapped the district with a lawsuit over bullying.

WFTV first brought the story of Dondre in December 2011 when a group of students bullied him at Holly Hill Middle School and, in one incident, pulled his pants down.

"They started pulling on me and then another boy came from behind and pulled my pants down," Dondre said last year.

Since then, the teenager has been enrolled in intense therapy and living away from home during his recovery.

Dondre, 15, testified his physical education teacher watched as students pulled down his pants as a prank.

"It was your testimony that the teacher watched," asked the attorney.

"Yes," he said.

That teacher has since resigned but Dondre's mother, Melissa, filed a suit against the school district alleging negligence.

Dondre's classmate, Christopher Johnson, testified he was in the locker room when the incident happened but didn't see the teacher paying attention.

"(They) jerked (his) pants down and another boy pulled up (his) shirt," said Johnson.

On Monday, the defense, which has already cost the district almost $70,000, began calling witnesses in an effort to show Dondre had an aggressive streak, questioning Dondre's pre-kindergarten teacher.

"Dondre did bite me at the top of my thigh," said teacher Kim Bialkoski.

Earlier, defense lawyers cross-examined Dondre's therapist to try to prove Dondre is a consistent liar and has behavioral issues.

"DCF got called in and he lied about the whole thing," said therapist Susan Zightmen. "He tends to blame others for his behavior."

The defense asked Dondre about his own aggressive behavior toward a female classmate after he was transferred to Campbell Middle School after the prank.

But Dondre said he hit the classmate because he liked her.

Another key theme the defense tried to highlight was Dondre's excessive reporting of being bullied at his rehabilitation center to the point where therapists would no longer take notes.

Melissa Jones said the reason they were in court was to send a message of education to the school district, not for students like Jones, but for every student.