Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Durham Public School System faces lawsuit for failing to protect student

The Durham Public School System is facing a lawsuit from parents upset with the handling of two incidents regarding their child.  The two cases expose potential concerns related to a lack of policies and the enforcement of policies aimed at protecting students.

“My child has a right to go to school and be comfortable,” the parents wrote in a letter sent to Eric J. Becoats, superintended of DPS, on January 8, 2013. “She should know without a doubt that the adults that have been placed in her life from the school system are here to help her at all times. This has not been the case for my child.”

The letter shares the story of an alleged sexual assault when the student was in the 8th grade at the Durham School of the Arts.

“It took the school over 48 hours to inform me,” the letter states. “Mr. Ferguson (Michael Ferguson, assistant principal) showed us the video of the assault and I asked if a police report had been done. He told me no. At that time I went and found officer Michaels myself and called him to the office. He informed me and my husband that no one had even told him about the incident.”

“Ferguson informed me and my husband that he met with my daughter and asked her if she knew why boys did this to little girls,” the letter continues.  “He implied to her that it was her fault that she was a victim of this sexual assault. The young man was found guilty of this charge. But is that your policy? My child was a minor, and a victim, and a “man” told her it was her fault that she was sexually assaulted and he didn’t even call us to let us know until days later. It hurts to know that she didn’t even tell me because she thought this was her fault. As a result of this my child did have to have counseling.”

The second incident occurred on November 12, 2012. The student was assaulted by two students at Hillside High School.  EMS was called to the school to transport the student to the hospital.  The parents were told the student was sitting at a cafeteria table when she was hit by a female student causing her to fall and hit her head on the window seal or floor.

The parents were told an administrator rushed to the aid of the student, and assisted her to the office to be seen. 

“When I arrived at the hospital and saw the multiple bruises on ….. face and knots on her head. I kept questioning my husband (about) the story that we were told, and due to the injury, at that time, my child had no memory,” the letter states.

The parents met with school administrators who related the same story - their daughter was sitting in a chair at the table when she was hit and fell on the floor or window seal. The parents were assured it was an altercation between their daughter and another student. The school administrator told them a school official helped their daughter off the floor and took her to the office.

“When I got home, to my disbelief, a video of the fight had been sent to my child,” the parent writes.  “None of what the school had informed me was true. No one helped my child up, nor did they break up the fight. No adult helped my child while she was unconscious on the floor and had her head repeatedly stomped on. “

The parents says the video shows another student grab their daughter from behind by her head and neck “throw her down to the ground, and start stomping on her head multiple times while she is unconscious.”

“There is not an adult or law enforcement officer in sight anywhere. No adult helped my child. There was enough time for children to run over to the fight, for it to be videoed, and peers hold one student while another stomped on my daughters head, but not enough time for an adult to get to my child to assist. Not even assist her off the floor,” the parent writes.

The parents ask important questions. “What is your policy? Should administrators been in certain parts of the cafeteria to monitor for these issues? What is the role for law enforcement in the cafeteria? Do you have policies for these things?”

The parents claim the incident followed a history of bullying.  After reporting the bullying “the teacher’s solution for my child was to ignore it. This has been confirmed by the school and the teacher called me. I asked him why he didn’t report this bullying. I told him that he had an obligation to report it. He stated that he was very sorry. He stated that he thought ……would leave her alone. Is this your policy?

The student who committed the assault was allowed to return to school on January 3, 2013. The decision was made by the due process panel at Hillside High School. The decision can’t be changed. 

“It’s my understanding that the panel didn’t have the video and did have the knowledge that ___was told by ___on 11/2/12 (while I was at the school) that they jumped on my child thinking her friends would jump in and there would be a big brawl but my daughters friends didn’t jump in. The actions of ___and ___ appear to be premeditated,” the parent writes.

“The school placed ___ back in the class with my child. My daughter texted me and stated that ___was staring at her and rolling her eyes at her. I told ___to ignore it. This is the same thing the teacher said before my child got hurt the first time.  These behaviors are still out right bullying.”

“Does my child have to be hurt again?” the parents ask.

“This county spends so much money on children that are ‘troubled youth’.  Who helps the victim? Who advocates for the good child that’s the victim? My child came to me, and I couldn’t protect her before but I will do everything in my power to protect her now. It just seems to me that ignore it is not the solution.”

“I don’t know why the bullying policy wasn’t followed. I don’t know why NO adult came to my child’s aid when they all reported they were in the cafeteria when this happened. I don’t know why the parents (my husband and I) weren’t told the truth.  If the truth wasn’t known at the time that’s what you tell me.”

There are a lot of unanswered questions.  Have policies been broken?  Is this student the victim of a system that works harder to maintain its image than in protecting students from being assaulted?

We talk about the need for parental involvement in our schools.  When parents get involved, the truth comes to the surface. 

It’s like that line in that movie – “you can’t handle the truth!”


  1. There really should be a class action lawsuit. Hillside has a history of lying and inaction. The officers that are at the school, I suspect do not file police reports to keep "incidents" reported down to a minimum. I have personally delt with the inaction of School Administration and law enforcentment.

  2. As I sit at my desk with tears running down my face, I want to first offer my sincere apologies to the victims and parents of these awful attacks. Secondly, I am deeply hurt that my city has come to this. The total denial of adverse behavior is the ingredient that accelerates both mental and physical oppression. Each administrator should be held accountable for their staff's lack of action in both cases. As a community of faith, we must galvanize our leaders and demand that they speak life into death. We can no longer be fans on the side line. We must engage in the game. If we want to protect our children, we must demand accountability with those whom we have trusted to lead them.

    Pastor Hardy