By: Suzie Glassman/NewsBreak Denver
(Castle Rock, CO) Time and time again, Misty Martin said her son reported when other students called him offensive, racist names or harassed him for the color of his skin, only to have Castle Rock Middle School administrators say there wasn’t anything they could do.
Martin’s son, who uses the initials C.M. in the filing, is one of the Black students suing the DougCo School District, school board, and Castle Rock Middle School principal for failing to protect students from racial harassment.
“It got to the point where he came home and said he wasn’t going to tell anymore because it just made the bullying worse,” said Martin.
Students knew when C.M. had told on them, but once they learned there wouldn't be consequences, they often retaliated. According to the lawsuit, one student told C.M. to “go back to the plantation you cotton-picking monkey.”
And students took pictures of C.M. using the restroom without his knowledge and shared those pictures on the internet.
Martin said the school’s vice principals knew her son was targeted but often felt hampered by a lack of proof (one student's word against another’s), or they believed they could only take action when the dispute became physical.
“We were told the kids could say things like ‘monkey,’ and there wasn’t a disciplinary policy for name-calling,” she said.
But, Martin’s son was suspended twice after pushing another student who called him names. The second time another student shoved food in his face, and he made contact with his arm while trying to swat it away.
Even with the incident on video, the school said they couldn’t corroborate what the other student said, and it was once again her son’s word against another student’s.
“He was at his wit’s end,” said Martin. The bullying got so bad that C.M. developed stomach issues that sent him to the emergency room.
It’s unclear which district policy administrators thought they were following about verbal vs. physical confrontations.
According to the district’s student code of conduct, “Conduct which disrupts or threatens to disrupt the operation of a school, which interferes in any way with the rights and privileges of other students or citizens, which endangers the health or safety of any person, or which damages property, will not be tolerated and will result in disciplinary action.”
The district’s recently revised anti-bullying policy states that bullying includes written or oral expression and that students engaging in bullying or retaliation are subject to disciplinary action, including but not limited to classroom removal, suspension, expulsion, and/or referral to law enforcement authorities.
Joining the lawsuit
“My husband and I joined the lawsuit because we want to see change at the district level,” said Martin.
“The superintendent and board of education's rhetoric about the bullying policy is just talk. We want a plan and action taken so that every child can go to school without fear of harassment, bullying, hate speech, or becoming a victim of a hate crime.”
Iris Halpern, the families’ attorney, said, “It's important to point out the lack of ongoing response of the school district.”
The families want action, and so far, they don’t believe they’ve gotten it.
During a school board meeting earlier this month, director Susan Meek presented a motion calling for school staff to address the board in September about what programs are in place to address bullying.
“I think history will judge us right now on how we react, and silence isn’t the way to go,” said Meek. “I can’t describe the feelings of disgust, anger, and frustration I felt reading through the complaint.
“I’m not saying everything is true, but I can tell you, that’s how a lot of community members are feeling, and for us to be transparent and talk about what programs we have in place and what is available to our students who maybe need help is really important.”
The motion passed 4-3, with board members Mike Peterson, Christy Williams, and Kaylee Winegar voting against the measure. Peterson objected to how Meek brought the motion to the board, saying he preferred to get legal advice before adding a bullying presentation to the agenda.
Williams said she wasn’t opposed to having a presentation but objected to Meek’s process, and Winegar said she objected to the surprise formal vote.
Board member David Ray argued that the board should be careful about using “process” as an excuse for not responding to community concerns.
“We want to able to say this is a topic we’ll discuss…So, just to reassure you, I don’t see it (Meek’s motion) as violating process by any means.”