Sue Morgan, Lawrence's school board president, discusses local efforts to stop bullying in schools.
A clear message came out of Lawrence's school board meeting Monday night considering bullying: It won't be tolerated.
And the board was assured that policies and practices are in place to prevent a situation experienced by a Tonganoxie student, Dylan Theno, who suffered through several years of bullying that eventually ended with a $440,000 settlement against that school district.
"The point I'm trying to make to you people is that kids will do whatever they are allowed to do," Alan Theno told the Lawrence board. "My wife and I tried from Dylan's seventh grade through his junior year in high school to get the bullying to stop."
Theno said no amount of money could replace his son's years in school or his loss of self-esteem. "Watching our son fall apart was the worst thing we ever experienced," he said.
Theno said as the board rewrites its policies, it needs to make administrators responsible.
"Policies are no good if administrators ignore them," he said.
Superintendent Randy Weseman told the board that the policies and practices in place in Lawrence were designed to extinguish bullying at its early stages and that Theno's experience in Tonganoxie was "intolerable."
"No parent should have to endure what this parent had to endure," said Bruce Passman, deputy superintendent.
Theno said the bullying of his son started in February 2000 when a boy in his son's seventh-grade class announced loudly in the school cafeteria that he had seen Dylan Theno masturbating in a boy's restroom.
"It wasn't true, but he said it and it was heard by a large group of boys," Theno said. "My son's name went from Dylan to 'jerkoff,' 'jack-off boy,' 'masturbator,' 'fag,' 'queer,' 'flamer' and many other filthy names. My son complained about it to the principal, but the principal forgot about it."
Dylan Theno is not a homosexual.
The names became worse as the boys found they wouldn't be punished, Alan Theno said. He said he and his wife went to the school 40 times to complain.
In the lawsuit, which was filed in May 2004, Dylan Theno alleged he was called the names until he quit school as a junior. The suit also said the harassment denied him access to an education.
A U.S. District Court jury awarded Theno a $250,000 judgment in August 2005 and the district was ordered by the judge in the case to pay nearly $270,000 in court costs. That award was under appeal when the $440,000 settlement was reached.
Following Alan Theno's statement Monday night, the board heard a report from three administrators on the Lawrence school district's efforts to curtail bullying in its schools.
Sandee Crowther, executive director for planning and program improvement; Chris Squier, director of Safe Schools and Healthy Students; and Karen Vespestad, director of grants, board services and strategic planning, told the board that two approaches were under way.
One is a districtwide effort at staff training and efforts to include language in board policy to bullying, "cyber bullying" and hazing.
The other approach is by working with mental health professionals to create classroom lessons dealing with bullying and sexual harassment for every grade level.
As part of that effort, three elementary schools are going through the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program: Langston Hughes, Prairie Park and Woodlawn. Sunflower School will go through the program in April.
Squires said the first two schools have shown a 50 percent reduction in bullying.
Snow day makeup
In other major action the board approved on a 5-1 voice vote, with Leonard Ortiz voting no, a plan to make up the snow day taken Feb. 13 by adding a few minutes to each school day. Ortiz said he didn't like the message the board was sending by not having the time put into one block.
The board was told each building needs to have at least 1,116 hours to meet the state requirement. The elementary schools will make up the time by adding two minutes to each day, from March 1 to May 24.
Free State High School will add four minutes its day beginning March 5. Lawrence High School and the junior highs have enough minutes built into their regular schedules and won't have to make any adjustments.