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TRIAL Case against teacher now in jury's hands



Published: Fri, August 12, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The plaintiffs have asked for damages exceeding $2 million.

YOUNGSTOWN -- Whether a teacher turned a blind eye to pleas for help from a pupil allegedly abused by his mother is now in a jury's hands.

Lawyers for Donald T. Kraynak, on behalf of his son, Derek, now 15, and Helen Marino, a teacher in the Youngstown School District, made their summations Thursday in the courtroom of Judge Jack M. Durkin of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court on what they thought the evidence showed during the trial, which began Monday.

Donald Kraynak filed the suit in 2001. An attempt to reach an out-of-court settlement between the parties failed.

Kraynak's lawyers, Joel Levin and Christopher Vlasich of Cleveland, assert that Marino's failure to report the abuse to proper authorities when Derek was 9 and a fourth-grader in her class at West Elementary School resulted in "innumerable instances of physical, mental and emotional abuse and humiliation by his mother and her numerous felonious boyfriends." Derek was a pupil in Marino's class from September 1999 to May 2000.

Lawyers James E. Roberts and John Pfau, who represented Marino and the school district, said Marino, a 20-year teacher, knew what signs of abuse to look for and, in her subjective but professional judgment, none was present in Derek's case.

Also, the defense lawyers claim the abuse started when Derek was 3 and that Marino and the district should not be accountable or responsible for any abuse.

Levin told the jurors Marino's failure to report the abuse was a violation of district policy and state law.

"The reporting statute says if there is any suspicion of abuse, it must be reported," Levin said. Derek kept a journal during his fourth-grade year, and it included numerous details of the beating allegedly inflicted upon him by his mother.

He said the school's principal even testified that if pupils say they are being abused to a teacher, it must be reported.

Ignored signs

He said Marino was told about the abuse and ignored it, and that's a violation of the reporting statute.

Levin said his expert witnesses he called to the stand said Marino violated her duty, and the defendants never brought in any experts to rebut their testimony.

Because of Marino's negligence, Derek suffered another 8 1/2 months of beatings by his mother, Levin said. Those beatings contributed to a host of mental problems.

He asked the jurors to find Marino and the district liable for the negligence, and asked for $2 million in damages for Derek, and $50,000 for his father.

Pfau told the jurors the abuse Derek suffered was not brought on by Marino nor the district.

Pfau said even Donald Kraynak, when he was finalizing the divorce with Derek's mother, signed an order that she was not a child abuser.

Vague time frame

He said the plaintiffs must prove Derek suffered damages during the time he was in Marino's class, adding that even the plaintiffs' expert said it was difficult to determine what damage was done during that period.

Pfau reminded the jurors that Derek's journal in and of itself was not designed to report abuse. Marino, who has taught gifted and special children for 20 years, designed the journal as a class creative-writing exercise.

Marino never saw any signs of abuse, therefore she did not suspect there was any, Pfau said. The expert witnesses said there should be no report made if a teacher does not suspect abuse has occurred.

Therefore, Marino did follow the reporting statute, Pfau said.

"If she felt [Derek] was being abused, she would have done something," Pfau said.

Derek also never approached his father or his grandparents about the alleged abuse.




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