Monday, July 13, 2015

Carl Junction R-1 settles with Nugent family for $300,000

The Carl Junction R-1 School District is paying $300,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by the parents of student who committed suicide following numerous instances of bullying.

The agreement, which was revealed by KKOW/KBTN Friday, was mentioned in a notice filed today in U. S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri. The notice says the settlement has been reached and asks the judge to dismiss the case.

The lawsuit, which was filed by Mika and Jessica Nugent, said the Carl Junction R-1 School District 's lack of effort to do anything to control a severe bullying problem led to the March 2013 suicide of Luke Nugent.

The nine-count lawsuit was initially filed in Jasper County Circuit Court, but was removed to federal court.

The defendants in the lawsuit were Superintendent Phil Cook (pictured), Carl Junction Junior High School Principal Scott Sawyer, assistant principals Trevor Chase and Theresa Wilson, counselor Ben Withers, compliance officer Gary Reed, and bus driver David Roughton.

The petition detailed a year-long harassment of the teen after he came out as bisexual.

After coming out (he) was "the subject of ridicule, harassment, torment and bullying" that took place both at school and on the bus, the petition says, including the use of a number of derogatory terms and obscene references.

"The ridicule, harassment, torment and bullying suffered by (him) also included, but was not limited to students physically threatening (him) as well as stealing and/or destroying his personal property."

The harassment on the bus was reported to Roughton and Withers and the teen's parents also reported it to school officials, including Sawyer, who relayed the report to Wilson, according to the petition.

"At one point in the fall of 2012, and in response to the ridicule, harassment, torment, and bullying, Defendant Sawyer rode the bus for one day to monitor the behavior. While riding the bus, he was told by a student to "clean my butt."

The lawsuit says Sawyer "failed to immediately discipline or rebuke this student in front of the other students." After his day of riding the bus, the harassment continued.

The teen's parents again contacted school officials about the problem. The lawsuit says Sawyer said that protecting the teen from the harassment was a "fight worth fighting," and that he would "keep an eye out for him."

That did not happen, the lawsuit claims. "By March 2013, students were telling (him) to hang himself and regularly threatening to beat him up."

The parents once again met with Sawyer in March 2013 to let him know that nothing had changed and their son was still being tormented.

"Defendant Sawyer acknowledged that he was aware that the bus was as bad or worse than it had ever been, yet he did nothing about it."

That lack of action, the petition says, "caused or contributed to cause (the teen) to suffer severe emotional distress, filling him with despair and hopelessness. Defendants' ongoing refusal to do anything but empower (his) tormentors forced him to seek escape elsewhere.

"March 14, 2013, was the last day of classes before spring break. After (he) had been dropped off at his bus stop, a student yelled out the window for (him) to 'do everyone a favor and hang himself.'

"On March 15, 2013, (he) spent a final day with his friends and family.

"On the morning of March 16, 2013, (his) parents found him hanging in his bedroom."

The suit alleges that district officials violated the Missouri Safe Schools Act by witnessing crimes that would be considered third degree assault and not reporting them, as well as a Title IX sexual harassment violation, "based on (the teen's) perceived sexual orientation."

The lawsuit says the district knew which students were causing the problems "and it was readily foreseeable that this abuse would continue into the future and refused to do anything (about it)." which "left him at the mercy of his bullies."

The problem with the bullies was not just limited to the teen who committed suicide, the petition says. "Concerned parents of other children in the school district repeatedly complained to the school district about the bullying problem."

In a sworn deposition taken April 16, 2014, for the case, Superintendent Phil Cook acknowledged that the school district shut down meetings of an anti-bullying task force because district officials were afraid it would make them look bad in the Nugent lawsuit.

They also stopped a survey being taken through the Talk About It program because it had "poor questions" and because the results might be used against them in the legal action.

The district added an online bullying reporting system in December,
News and commentary you won't find anywhere else. Consider taking a subscription to the Turner Report/Inside Joplin or making a contribution by using one of the buttons below. If you would prefer not to use PayPal or a credit card, you can mail contributions to 2306 E. 8th, Apt. G, Joplin, MO 64801.

Payment Options
Support the Turner Report

No comments: