Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Carl Junction principal: I don't recall being asked to clean butt

A bus ride to determine the extent of a bullying situation ended up with an apparent case of the principal being verbally bullied...and not doing anything about it.

A deposition filed earlier this month in U. S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri in the wrongful death lawsuit filed by the parents of a junior high student who committed suicide in March 2013 features Carl Junction Junior High Principal Scott Sawyer, a former Joplin educator, detailing how he investigated after Luke Nugent's mother, Jessica Nugent, told him about her son being bullied on the school bus in November 2012. The call was made without the teen's knowledge.

Sawyer decided to ride the bus and see what was going on, sitting across from the teen. The principal said high school students on the bus told him the ride was "quieter than usual."

"I would not ride the bus with the Pollyanna assumption that my mere presence on the bus would be some sort of medicine against bad behavior forever, you know like some sort of vaccine that would eradicate polio."

Sawyer's testimony indicates his temporary vaccine did not keep him from being the target of verbal abuse from one of the high school students, a female, who had been accused of bullying the teen,

"I remember a student using the word 'butt' in front of me," Sawyer replied to a question from Jessica and Mika Nugent's lawyer about the incident. "I do not recall being asked to clean or eat butt."

After that response, Sawyer went on in depth about the incident:

This was said as a sort of attention grabber. 'Everybody look at me. I'm a little girl who said "butt" in front of a principal. It was more "I'm the naughty little girl getting attention. I used the word butt as opposed to "I'll show that principal. I'll call him this or I'll order him to do some obscene act related to butts.

It was an immature act from a young lady attempting to get attention, not directed at my authority, not directed to a cutdown to me.

The Nugents' lawyer asked Sawyer, "Do you remember at all what she said?"

"I remember the word 'butt" was in it. I don't remember exactly what she said."

Sawyer also recalled his swift reaction to the girl's obscene comment.

"I said her name and shook my head indicating you and I both know that that's immature and cut it out. And she did."

Sawyer said he followed up on the bus ride by frequently asking Luke Nugent how things were going on the bus. The teen never indicated anything was wrong, he said.

The lawyer also questioned Sawyer about his follow-up on the list of names of those who had been bullying the teen. Sawyer said he had not questioned the students and ":couldn't recall" if he had asked anyone else to.

The deposition also indicated that the seating arrangement on the bus was done, with the driver's permission, by one of those who was accused of the bullying.

Sawyer also answered a question about the use of homophobic slurs on the bus and elsewhere at the school.

It's been my experience, both teacher, you know, honestly, it's been my experience as student, adult, you know, child, adult, teacher, administrator, that sometimes the students use these words to cut each other down, but they're not referring to sexual orientation.

So, based on experience and based on what knowledge I had at the time, the way the word was being used struck me not as a homophobic slur, but a cutdown, the same as calling someone a jerk or worse.

In the deposition, the principal also disputed a Jasper County Sheriff's Department report that said he had told a deputy that he had told Jessica Nugent in the fall about a comment made by one of the high school students who told Luke Nugent to "go hang himself."

Sawyer said the deputy had made an error.

The principal also disputed the sheriff's department report that included comments from several students about the bullying.

Sawyer said those comments were made after word had been spreading through social media about Luke Nugent's death. Sawyer said he put more faith in the interviews done by the district's resource officer immediately after the suicide.

The Carl Junction R-1 School District announced last week that it was implementing an anti-bullying program, just one week after the Turner Report featured a post on court documents in which Superintendent Phil Cook said that he had stopped some of the district's anti-bullying efforts because he was concerned they might help the Nugents with their lawsuit.
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Anonymous said...

There is a huge economic gap in Carl Jnction kids from trailer parks get on the bus just a mile down the road from where kids get on standing outside a 300,000 dollar house and those rich kids are a real snooty bunch. My kid used to ride Stormin Normans bus when he went to Carl he was just lucky he was not the one getting made fun of.

Anonymous said...

How on earth did the resource officers do a interview after. They were on Spring break.

Anonymous said...

I knew Luke Nugent in 7th grade, when I still attended Carl Junction schools. I can easily see how he could be made an easy target of bullying or harassment. I always hated riding the 'shuttle buses' from the Jr. High to to elementary. I was surrounded by crude teens, teens that knew no tolerance or respect. I always drowned them out with headphones. The reason that I could see Luke as a target of theirs was that he was different. He stuck out. (For me, in an admirable way.) He was always making intelligent, quirky comments or jokes. He wore a belt that flashed his name across it. As for his sexual orientation; I heard him once say that he was bisexual during a DI convention while chatting with a girl from another region.

Now as for how I see his bullying at CJ almost certain- this boy was amazing. As I said, he was smart. He had friends. People who loved him. He laughed and joked, and he cared for the well being of others. He didn't just go off and kill himself for nothing. There had to have been something else.

Now, recalling the past, when I moved to CJ in 4th grade, I was bullied quite harshly. I was a new, strange girl in a small town. I was kicked from my chair, tripped when running, called an asshole. When I tried to speak to others about something I was told to shut up, often before I'd even uttered two words. My curiosity was laughed at. And nobody helped. It seemed that my hurt was invisible to everyone around me. It got better through the years, yet I knew that underneath the people who bullied me, that anger and bitterness was still there.

As for claims that he was bullied on his sexual orientation; it's possible. How much, I cannot say. I can, however, recall from my past experiences at this school for relation to the possibility. I remember rumors spread about me when I cut short my hair, rumors that I was lesbian. They weren't vicious, yet it seemed very strange. It was only a haircut, so why did people need to quip about my 'orientation'? Why would it even matter if I were lesbian?
Another recollection is of the heavy religious influence upon the people in CJ. I can definitely understand how discrimination would fall upon poor Luke if he identified as bi or gay. Religion was common in the classroom, from students telling me to "Accept Jesus" to teachers with religiously influenced teachings. I wasn't a very large, open thing, but a thing that you knew was weaved into the patchwork of the deal.
Luke Nugent also identified as an atheist.
I remember protecting my friend on the bus. She'd said something about not believing in god and it started a storm. All of a sudden a pair of siblings in the seat in front of me pulled out a bible, looking for verses. Suggestions rang out from behind me. "It's the best life you can live..." quipped a boy.

I moved to Texas the summer following Luke's death. I still talk to my best friend who attends these schools. She says that, as openly lesbian, she encounters countless homophobic comments. She has said that she's even been pushed aside, against the lockers.

I don't know how this will help or who will see this, but whoever does, I can tell you now that something was going on. Something that killed the inside of my beautiful, beautiful friend. The boy with the Chuck Norris Jokes and wild dances, the boy with brilliance.

I call for justice in a small town.

Anonymous said...