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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