Former Seattle student wins settlement against Seattle Public Schools

SEATTLE — A former Garfield High School student who claimed he was bullied by the school after raising awareness about bullying on campus -- has just won a $125,000 settlement against Seattle Public Schools, claiming the school violated his First Amendment rights.

“I was trying to do the right thing,” said Alex Thornewell.

The 21-year-old says he was acting as a whistleblower, drawing attention to a culture of hazing on his varsity swim team at Garfield High, which he first witnessed as a freshman in 2017.

He says numerous humiliating incidents included seniors squatting naked over the faces of freshmen.

“I was told whatever happens in the locker room stays in the locker room. I took that to heart,” said Thornewell.

Thornewell’s parents say their son, who is autistic, was never subjected to the hazing, but he was traumatized and literally could not talk about it.

Until his junior year in 2020, when he gave an interview about the hazing to a reporter at the school newspaper.

But before a follow-up interview – Alex says the vice-principal ambushed him, taking him into a room and demanding he stop talking with the reporter.

“I felt like I was being threatened,” said Thornewell.

The parents say during a school investigation their son was accused of lying.

“The investigator asks the witnesses, like, ‘do you think that him being autistic make him embellish details and make up details about what happened?’ So, they never even wanted to investigate the hazing. They just wanted to make sure that to paint him as a liar that made up all these hazing things so that they could cover up,” said Amanda Thornewell, Alex’s mother.

Attorneys for the family say this case was about holding authorities accountable, protecting free speech and protecting a vulnerable young man.

“It vindicates him. It gives him a voice and that’s what we wanted to make happen -- we wanted his voice to resonate,” said Jeff Admon, Thornewell’s attorney.

The school did not admit any wrongdoing in the case.

Seattle Public Schools did not respond to KIRO 7′s request for comment.

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