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Student who Brutally Attacked Aide is Suing the School District

Student who Brutally Attacked Aide is Suing the School District


On February 23, 2023, 17-year-old high school student Brandon Depa brutally attacked paraprofessional Joan Naydich after she took away his Nintendo Switch game. The beating was caught on school surveillance footage and released, which went viral and drew national attention. He was charged with aggravated assault, and since the victim is a school employee, he faces 30 years in prison. 

According to ABC News, the student knocked the aide unconscious, and then “He began kicking at the teacher’s aide before kneeling on top of her and repeatedly punching her in the head. The trigger for the attack was talk of taking away Depa’s Nintendo Switch.” The victim suffered broken ribs and a concussion.

The Victim Speaks

According to Ms. Naydich, the aide who was attacked, “The only thing I will say is that on Feb. 21, 2023, he changed my life forever. I hope he is sentenced to the furthest extent of the law.” The aide plans on attending the student’s sentencing. 

“Even though we are at this stage of the case, I have no closure as of now as every day I face challenges that were brought on by his actions,” Naydich said. “I do get to wake up every morning, even though he wanted me dead, and try to get through my day. (There are) all kinds of setbacks, including financial and medical ones. It’s been very challenging for my kids and I.”

Special Needs Student

The day after the attack, a news release from the Sheriff’s Department did not mention that the student was in the special needs program. “He was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, sensory disorder, behavior/impulse control disorder, mood disorder, and ADHD,” and some people, including Depa’s lawyers, are saying that these disorders contributed to the attack as taking the student’s electronics was a known trigger. 

The Student’s History

Brandon entered foster care at five months old before being adopted. His adoptive mother said, “When you listen to him, you think that he should know better. But it’s that social, emotional age where he struggles. He’s at like a four to six-year-old level for not understanding how to make friends, not understanding give and take and things like that, and getting really fixated on something.” 

The parents were trying to get Brandon into a residential facility for people with special needs. Florida’s Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD) helped find an intensive behavioral group home, but there were long wait lists and limited openings. 

The mother had tried homeschooling Brandon before because large groups are difficult for him, but the group home encouraged him to stay in public school. According to his mother, “The group home was aware that electronics was a trigger for him. And in his school IEP, we stated that. We told the school that it could result in him acting out physically.” 

Manifestation of a Disability?

Two days after the attack, the school issued a report that said, “Brandon became verbally aggressive toward Ms. Joan when they were discussing Brandon using his Switch.” He then “began calling her names and cursing at her,” and “when she attempted to leave the room, he got in her face and spit in her face.”

Brandon then “pushed the para down, and she fell unconscious,” and he “threatened to kill her.” 

While the report stated that Brandon’s IEP was being followed as written, Brandon, his mother, and the group home said in the report that the IEP was not being followed because of the addition of the technology trigger that was not on the IEP.” Brandon requested that it be added in the past.

The report said, “The team determined that the behaviors were a manifestation of his disability.” Usually, when a school determines that a behavioral problem is a manifestation of a student’s disability, there are little to no consequences for the student because they are seen as not at fault. 

This is why Brandon and his family are suing the school district. 

The Lawsuit

On April 24, 2024, Brandon Depa and his family filed a lawsuit against the school district “for failing to meet his individual educational and behavioral needs.” The lawsuit was filed as “a request for due process hearing under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act,” and asks for a finding that “Flagler County Public Schools’ actions and omissions in the years before and the months after the Feb. 21, 2023 attack on Joan Naydich, led to the violent incident at Matanzas High School that was caught on video and, in turn, led to Depa’s arrest and prosecution as an adult.”

According to Depa’s lawsuit, “school employees were well aware of his disabilities, triggers and problem behaviors,” as well as other incidents where he was disciplined for threats, spitting, pushing an aide, “harassing and intimidating the school staff,” and for yelling at one of his teachers.

The filing describes Depa as “a ticking time bomb” whose needs, despite “concerns and warnings,” were “completely disregarded” by the district. The suit claims the district’s “failure to address his needs or have staff around him with the proper training” was to blame for the attack on the aide. 

Possible Outcome

The lawsuit asks that instead of 30 years in prison, Brandon be given “compensatory education for academic, communication, independent functioning and social emotional supports and services, placement in a behavioral therapeutic school with wrap-around services designed for students with severe behavior disorders paid for by the district, reimbursement for any out of pocket expenses included but not limited to tutoring expenses and mental health supports and services; reimbursement of costs, including fees, and any other relief this court deems just and equitable.”

Rehabilitation Versus Incarceration

“We don’t have mechanisms in place like appropriate diversion programs to do rehabilitation rather than incarceration. When we resort to tools like solitary confinement for people who are already in the penal system, we are making things worse,” the Director of the Autism Justice Center, Carlean Ponder, said. 

The Autism Justice Center is a new initiative from the Autism Society of America.. “We are specifically looking at the intersection of the criminal legal system and autism,” Ponder said. The nonprofit reports that by 21 years old, nearly 5% of youth with autism had been arrested. In 2023, the CDC revealed more children than ever are being identified with autism — 1 in 36.

The Victim’s Response to the Lawsuit

“I hope the court shows no mercy,” Nayduch said, adding, “He is not the victim in my situation. Mrs. Depa needs to stop blaming everyone for her failure as a parent.”

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Jane Morris

Jane Morris is the pen name of an ex-teacher who would really like to tell you more about herself but is worried awful administrators will come after her for spilling their dirty little secrets. Jane has taught English for over 15 years in a major American city. She received her B.A. in English and Secondary Education from a well-known university and her M.A. in Writing and Literature from an even fancier (and more expensive) university. As a professional queen of commiseration turned published author, Jane’s foremost passion in life is to make people laugh through the tears.

She has written several highly acclaimed books unpacking the reality of teaching and life inside the school system. You can view her full library of works here.


Tuesday 30th of April 2024

Then maybe he doesn’t belong in the public school system. Treat them like everyone else, until they do something horrific and then we’re told there isn’t anything we can do. The inmates are running the asylum.