Changes to the Clark County School District bullying policy expected this week will be in vain if educators aren’t held accountable for reporting and investigating incidents, according to parents who successfully sued the district over the issue.
In their first interview since a court ruling in their favor, two Henderson mothers who were plaintiffs in the lawsuit, along with a third who said she removed her children from Greenspun Junior High because of bullying, spoke shortly before an expected vote by the Board of Trustees on an updated policy Thursday.
“I think staff compliance is huge,” said Mary Bryan, one of the plaintiffs in the suit against the school district. “The adults that are supposed to take care of the kids should know better.”
Bryan, Aimee Hairr and Patricia Fedele all pulled their children out of Greenspun because they said teachers and administrators failed to keep their children safe from bullies.
The American Civil Liberties Union sued the school district on behalf of the Hairr and Bryan families.
In late June, District Judge Nancy Allf ruled in favor of the families, saying the district violated their rights to due process under the 14th Amendment by failing to properly address bullying at the Henderson school. She later awarded $200,000 each to the families.
The district is appealing the decision. At the same time, the district is implementing policies aimed at helping protect reported victims.
The Henderson families, along with another family, have made great headway on changing Nevada’s bullying laws in the last six years.
In 2015, Hailee’s Law — named for Hailee Lamberth, a student at Thurman White Middle School in Henderson who killed herself after being bullied — was signed into law. That measure put stricter protocols in place for schools to follow, and a follow-up law this year strengthened several provisions.
On Thursday, the board will formally change its policy to comply with the changes made in the law, including:
■ Prohibiting principals or administrators from taking action to harm reported victims while investigating allegations, such as making them change classes.
■ Notifying parents or guardians that the principal or administrators will be conducting an investigation.
■ Notifying parents of each student directly involved about the conclusion of the investigation.
■ Requiring follow-up with both the reported victim and alleged aggressor no later than 10 days after an incident is reported.
■ Implementing an appeal process for both the reported victim and the alleged aggressor after an investigation has been completed.
The parents who withdrew their kids from Greenspun said parents need to be vocal advocates if they suspect bullying has occurred, especially if the child is transitioning to a new school or environment.
Bryan and Hairr’s sons were in sixth grade when the bullying incidents occurred.
“I didn’t know how much was teenage angst,” Bryan said.
Little did they know their children were being shoved, called homophobic names and stabbed with trombones in band class over six months beginning in August 2011. One of them was stabbed in the groin with a pencil and required medical attention, while the other contemplated suicide, according to the lawsuit.
“We all were in the blind,” Hairr added.
Children are often reluctant to admit they’re being bullied, the mothers said. But once they do, it’s up to the parents to make sure the school is properly investigating the issue. They recommend documenting all contacts with school officials.
The mothers said their children will live with the scars of the bullying incidents forever. Hairr’s son is in therapy now.
“My son had lost trust in everyone around him who didn’t help,” she said.
All of this could have been avoided, the mothers say, with proper communication from principals and administrators.
“Instead of talking to parents, they allow these cases to go to suit,” Bryan said. “I would have been perfectly happy for them to have fixed this with us ahead of time.”
The woman said the district’s continued appeal of the case is a waste of taxpayer money.
“As far as I’m concerned, we won our case. The rest is for the lawyers to do,” Bryan said.
School district spokeswoman Melinda Malone declined to comment on the pending appeal.
Contact Meghin Delaney at 702-383-0281 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @MeghinDelaney on Twitter.
The Lamberth case
Hailee Lamberth’s family is also suing the Clark County School District in both federal and state courts, alleging school officials failed to keep her safe and that bullying ultimately led to her suicide in late 2013.
The District Court case is scheduled to go to trial in early November. The federal lawsuit was remanded back to state court in August 2015.
An anti-bullying law signed by Gov. Brian Sandoval in 2015 is named after Hailee.