Oak Brook family files $50 million lawsuit against Butler District 53
Butler Junior High is one of two schools in Butler Elementary District 53. (Chicago Tribune / Chicago Tribune)
A $50 million federal lawsuit filed by an Oak Brook family against Butler Elementary District 53 isn’t about the money, said the mother of two boys who are students in the district and, according to the suit, have been subjected to cruel and unusual punishment related to allegations of cheating in a geography bee.
The suit was filed April 14 in U.S. District Court Northern District of Illinois by Rahul Julka on behalf of his two sons, said Julka’s wife, Komal Julka.
Komal Julka said the federal lawsuit was filed in an attempt to bring attention to the situation.
"We don’t even have an attorney for this federal lawsuit; we’re doing it ourselves," she said. "It really isn’t about the money, but if we filed the suit for $10, nobody would pay attention. We want people to know what’s going on here."
Julka said she and her husband believed the federal lawsuit was necessary because a lawsuit filed last year in DuPage County Circuit court against District 53 and the school board, seeking to eliminate the sanctions and have letters and documents related to the district investigation removed from their sons’ files, doesn’t allow them an opportunity to tell their entire story. A hearing on the DuPage court case is scheduled for 9 a.m. April 25.
"That case is an administrative review, which only allows for the court to look at the procedure the school district followed and not what happened because of their actions," Julka said. "This is a small community, and a lot of people presume we did something wrong when we didn’t."
A school district investigation determined that Komal Julka registered as a "fraudulent" home school provider, and her emails showed she paid for geography bee questions with her credit card after creating a school name and address, the Chicago Tribune reported based on court records when the DuPage County lawsuit was filed.
The competition, known as the GeoBee, was slated to begin Jan. 19, 2016 at Brook Forest School. Word spread among parents that some families may have actual test questions, and administrators began receiving complaints Jan. 15, 2016.
Rahul Julka withdrew his children from the competition that same evening, according to district records. The Julkas have denied any wrongdoing.
The Julka boys, then in fourth and fifth grades, were banned from all academic competitions in District 53.
The Julkas deny any wrongdoing.
Their federal lawsuit states the resulting punishment caused the Julka boys to lose friends, bear the brunt of insults and lose "overall social interaction."
District 53 Superintendent Heidi Wennstrom called the lawsuit "frivolous" in a Wednesday text message.
"It is unfortunate to see these frivolous lawsuits continue as they drain public resources and detract from our focus on achieving our core mission," she wrote in her message. "Butler school district is part of a strong community that is cherished and supported by wonderful families."