HOUSTON (CN) - The mother of an eighth-grader who committed suicide after a bully kicked him down two flights of stairs at school says school officials developed a "custom of looking the other way" to bullying, and that after her son's suicide the district destroyed video of the boy being bullied in school and on the bus. She says her late son's chief bully was punished by being kept out of one football game.
On behalf of her son Asher Brown's estate, Amy Brown Truong sued the president and vice-president of the Cy-Fair Independent School District and Hamilton Middle School's principal and vice-principal.
Though the school and district adopted a policy to deal with bullying in response to recent federal and state legislation, officials "failed to put these policies into practice and only gave these concerns 'lip service,' and turned a 'blind eye' to the problem," Truong says.
Even when her son filed a written complaint about students bullying him, and teachers saw it, they did nothing, Truong says.
"Asher was a victim of incessant bullying by a number of students," Truong says. "He was made fun of because of his size, because he had a lisp, because he was a Buddhist and because ostensibly he was gay.
"On numerous occasions someone would run up to Asher when he was running track, and a student would stop short in front of Asher, so that Asher would run into that boy and simulate anal intercourse. Then someone would call out, 'Hey faggot, quit trying to [email protected] me. [Sic.] Hey guys, Asher is trying too butt [email protected] me.' On many occasions these incidents were often observed by the physical education and coaching staff.
"Also on numerous occasions Asher would be tying his shoe lace and D.K., D.H., K.C. and another D.K., would come up behind him, simulate anal sex and yell out, 'You like this don't you? You [email protected] faggot. Is this what Buddha does to you guys, doesn't he? Have you [email protected] Budda today, Boodie boy?' all in reference to being known as a follower of he Buddhist faith. Asher himself filed a complaint to school administrators but there was no record in any of the students' files that any were ever punished."
The 38-page complaint contains a lengthy history of recent school bullying in the United States, and the resulting suicides. More than 1,600 children from 10 to 14 years old killed themselves from 1999 to 2006, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
"On the day or so before Asher's death, he was kicked down a flight of stairs and had his books also kicked and scattered across the ground, with a number of other students watching and leering the offending [sic]. But it did not stop there, when Asher attempted to gather himself up he was kicked down another flight of stairs. In response Asher shouted that if the bully didn't apologize then Asher would kill himself," his mother says.
She adds: "The main bully W.D. was punished by missing one football game."
Even after Asher killed himself, the response from school officials was disappointing.
"A few days after Asher's suicide Mr. & Mrs. Truong went to the school and met with Mrs. Ify Oqwumike, principal of the middle school," Amy Truong says. "She specifically told them that 'We don't punish our bullies here anymore because I don't want their parents coming up here getting in my face or calling us demanding why their child was punished ... when they do that, and quite frankly, it makes me feel really awkward and uncomfortable.'" (Sic; ellipsis in complaint.)
Amy Truong says that before her son's suicide, her husband, David Truong, "went to the school on numerous occasions to speak with school district personnel about his concerns that Asher was being bullied," and left several notes with the receptionist.
But despite the notes, and the numerous cameras around Hamilton Middle School's campus, "School personnel report in the press report that there is no evidence that David Truong ever entered the school and went to administration offices."
The complaint states: "Representatives of the school district staff have destroyed and withheld evidence including but not limited to incident reports filed by Asher and other students about bullying and harassment, videos of Asher and other being bullied and harassed during school and on the bus, documentation of David Truong signing into the school to meet with school officials, videos of David Truong coming to the school to meet with school officials as well as documentation of telephone and email communications from Amy and David Truong to and from school officials."
And to cap it all: "Students reported that they were told that if they spoke about Asher, the bullying and his suicide, they would be punished," the complaint states.
Amy and David Truong now advocate for anti-bullying laws, and recently spoke to the Texas Legislature.
"They would like to see the school adopt an anti-bullying policy called 'Asher's Rule. They would like to see the school put up a memorial in Asher's honor where he was kicked down the stairs by the bully," Amy Truong says.
She seeks punitive damages from Dr. John Ogletree, president of the Cy-Fair Independent School District's board; superintendent David Anthony; Ify Ogwumike, Hamilton Middle School's principal; and Alan Durham, the school's assistant principal.
She is represented by Martin Cirkiel of Round Rock.
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