If there is any lower impulse than the urge to hound special education students to please kill themselves, it is the one that would allow a school administrator to ignore reports of such cruelty, even after a series of suicides.
In her lawsuit against the Blue Springs School District, Rebecca Lewis lays out in devastating detail how her son Ryker, who happened to have a speech impediment “he was working to improve,” was regularly taunted to do what his bullied best friend, Ethan Young, had done. Go kill yourself, too, classmates said. Three years ago, at age 15, Ryker complied.
Ethan and Ryker aren’t the only Blue Springs students who’ve been tormented beyond their breaking point. The suit says several of Ryker’s other “similarly situated” school friends have attempted suicide because of bullying.
Other parents in the district report a succession of self-inflicted deaths there in recent years — and a pattern of administrators tacitly encouraging such stunted behavior by either failing to intervene at all or advising victims to “turn the other cheek.” In particular, parents describe the Blue Springs Freshman Center as an all-day playground for bullies who have the run of the place and pay no price for actions that are not just wrong but criminal.
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In the kind of formal legal lingo that in this case diminishes none of the horror of the situation, Lewis’ lawsuit goes on to say that for years before he died, “Decedent’s mental health conditions were the target of bullying. Decedent’s friends were the target of repeated bullying. … Decedent’s speech impediment and intelligence were the target of bullying. Decedent’s athleticism was the target of bullying.” Both before and after a first suicide attempt, a least three classmates kept at him to try again and finish the job.
Other parents also say Blue Springs school officials routinely refuse to respond to such reports or to even acknowledge that there is any bullying going on beyond normal teasing. That’s in clear defiance of a 2012 settlement agreement in a lawsuit over the 2009 suicide of Brandon Myers after he was targeted and tormented for years. If kids making such noises were taken as seriously as those who talk about mass shootings are at schools all over the country, it’s hard to believe they’d keep it up.
One Blue Springs mother, who asked that her name not be used because she still has a child in the school district, said she never saw any discipline meted out to the bullies who went after three of her four children who’ve gone to the local schools. Over and over, she said, her son was physically threatened by a boy whom administrators wrote off as “all talk.” And when her daughter was at the Freshman Center, a boy came up behind her and rubbed his genitals against her every day.
When her husband showed up at the school with steam coming out of his ears, the vice principal to whom he described the situation “chuckled and said, ‘Are you sure that’s what’s happening?’ ” Then he did call in the boy, who said he’d just been dancing. He didn’t stop it, though, the mother said, and the school took no further action.
The school district responded to a request for the exact number of suicides with a statement that said, “The Blue Springs School District does not tolerate bullying,” has a superior “bullying prevention program available,” trains staff, promotes kindness and thoroughly investigates all reports.
“For anyone to believe Blue Springs School District administrators or staff would ‘turn the other cheek’ in regards to bullying,” wrote spokeswoman Katie Woolf, “quite simply does not understand the heart of an educator.” Steven Coronado, an attorney for the district and the 11 individual administrators named in the Lewis suit, including Blue Springs Freshman Center Principal Brandon Martin, asked The Star, “Didn’t you already run something on this?”
Yes, and in the future, we hope to publish more stories — perhaps on a real investigation, a real rethinking of district leadership and some real soul-searching about the future of the Freshman Center.