The family of a middle school student who was hospitalized after a violent beating allegedly at the hands of a classmate has filed suit against the South Elgin school district, attorneys announced Thursday.
Goldberg Weisman and Cairo filed the lawsuit Oct. 6 against District U-46 and other school officials “seeking an unspecified some of monetary damages,” attorneys for the family of Henry Sembdner, a Kenyon Woods middle schooler, said.
A teenage student, appearing in court with his family in February, was charged with felony aggravated battery and two counts of misdemeanor battery. He was ordered to remain on house arrest with electronic home monitoring and can only go to school and home.
Sembdner, a seventh-grader at the school, suffered severe injuries and was taken to Presence St. Joseph Hospital in Elgin before being transferred to Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge.
In a letter to parents, Kenyon Woods Middle School Principal Lisa Olsem said the young boy was “assaulted by another student” just before noon on Feb. 3.
“I spent time with the family of the injured student at the hospital this afternoon and will remain in close contact with them,” Olsem wrote. “The alleged attacker, [sic] was arrested and transported to South Elgin Police Department.”
A school official during a board meeting said the beating may have been sparked by a hallway incident.
“The student was bumped, or somehow bumped into the other student, that student then became aggressive in a very short couple of seconds and injured the young man,” said John Heiderscheidt, the district’s director of safety.
Lawyers for Sembdner filed a petition in court soon after the incident seeking information about the attack they say was kept from them by the school district.
Attorneys released a statement saying the Sembdner family holds no ill will toward the student who attacked the Henry but noted at the time they still struggled to find answers from school officials who kept them “in the dark” following the attack.
"Certainly [the family is] angry and upset about what happened to Henry but they're also sympathetic to the extent that there's a young kid out there who clearly has struggles of his own," said Attorney Lance Northcutt in February.
The attorney said despite reports from the school that the pair bumped into each other in a hallway, there were no prior interactions or bullying incidents between the two.
School District U-46 official Mary Fergus said at the time the district's counsel has been in contact with the Sembdner's attorneys and will continue to do so.
"We have responded to requests for information pursuant to the rules of civil law procedure," she said in an email. "It's important to note the district already has policies in place to support our obligation as a government body to preserve records."
"This filing is not a lawsuit for damages," the Goldberg Weisman Cairo Law Firm said in the statement, "but rather a petition filed under Illinois Supreme Court rules that allows for civil discovery to take place to identify what, if any, claims may exist and who the responsible parties might be."
The law firm said it "intends to take all necessary steps to seek the truth about Henry’s attack and will hold District officials accountable in providing this information."
The attorneys said the boy was slammed headfirst onto the floor, which caused him to bleed profusely and become nauseous. They said school officials sent him to the nurse and called his parents to say he suffered a bloody nose and broken tooth.
The school called emergency crews only after the boy’s eye began to bulge, the attorneys said. At the hospital, the attorneys said, a school official told the family the school had not experienced behavior problems with the student who attacked the boy.
“Since that time, Henry’s parents have tried to sift through a maze of rumors and second-hand information as to whether that representation was in fact true and have struggled to understand why a child who allegedly had no behavioral issues would suddenly turn violent,” the attorneys said.
School officials said they are supporting both students following the incident.
“Not only do we support Henry, but we also support the student who allegedly caused this—we support him through counseling,” district CEO Tony Sanders said.
Chief Jerry Krawczyk said the alleged suspect is also in middle school.
"This case makes me sad as a dad," he said. "I've never seen a case like this involving children resulting in such severe injuries."
Chicago Cubs star Anthony Rizzo took to Twitter days after the incident to lend Henry some support and make him an offer.