Defamation trial over cheating allegations in geography bee underway

A west suburban family is suing their local school district for millions of dollars after they say the district defamed them by claiming they tried to cheat at a geography bee. The district is blaming the parents.

Komal Julka and her 13-and-15-year-old sons walked into the Dirksen Federal Courthouse Monday as trial gets underway in the family's defamation lawsuit against Butler School District 53 in west suburban Oak Brook.

In 2016, the district accused Julka and her husband Rahul of trying to help their kids cheat in their school's geography bee when Komal Julka's brother, Trushar Patel, obtained the answers by registering on the geography bee's website as a home school.

In court Monday, Patel told jurors it was a simple mistake: He was trying to order the study guide.

In opening statements, a lawyer for the district told jurors, “It is really unfortunate the kids got caught up in this, but unfortunately Mrs. Julka decided to cheat. The school's job is to teach integrity and honesty."

Both boys were pulled from the competition and negative records placed in their academic files.

The Julka family says their reputations have been unfairly destroyed by the district's actions and the children ostracized.

One of the boys testified today, saying, “I completely lost all my friends, pretty much everyone was calling me cheater. I sat alone (and) had no friends at recess."

The trial continues Tuesday morning with teachers and administrators from the school district scheduled to testify.

It could wrap up as soon as Wednesday.