Olympia teen files civil rights complaints over alleged bullying

Staff writerMay 15, 2013 

A teen who is filing a civil rights complaint about alleged bullying incidents at Olympia High said he’s been expelled from the school.

The teen said school officials told him he was too much of a “risk” for staff and students at the school.

“I’m not allowed in that school anymore,” he said. “And those bullies are.”

Olympia School District spokeswoman Rebecca Japhet declined to comment on the complaint or expulsion, citing student privacy laws.

This is the student’s third formal complaint about bullying with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

The teen said he’s endured years of bullying by other students and that he hopes his actions will encourage other students to take a stand against it.

“I want it to be made public that they (the school district) didn’t actually handle the bullying situation, and I want others to speak out,” he said.

Japhet said the district takes every allegation of harassment, intimidation and bullying very seriously.

“We respond to each and every complaint and investigate,” she said. “We will tap into every resource, including the state education ombudsman’s office, to work through these issues with students, staff and families. … We do not tolerate bullying, harassment or intimidation, and we will exhaust all resources, both internal and external, to address and resolve these issues.”

The teen recently wrote a letter detailing the alleged bullying incidents and sent it to school officials, lawmakers and members of the media.

“I’m at my wits end,” he wrote. “No one will help me. I’m being bullied every day, and it will not stop, so that’s why I wrote this. I will send it to everyone, and I can only hope someone will give a damn and help me.”

In the letter, the teen said he suffered a spinal injury and a concussion when another student attacked him after eighth-grade graduation. Since then, he’s been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and continues to get picked on by kids at school and over the Internet, he said. He said he suffers from panic attacks and has tried to commit suicide.

His earlier civil rights complaints were settled in an early resolution process, which means they were not fully investigated, he said.

“This time we’re going all the way,” he said.

Olympia High principal Matt Grant also declined to give specific comments about the complaint. However, he said there has been quite a bit of work at the school this year to try to combat bullying issues.

“I think the reality is that in any big comprehensive high school there’s gong to be times when people feel harassed,” he said. “… Sometimes the stories are very complicated, and it’s not as black and white as it looks. I think the whole goal is to change whatever the behavior is out there. The real goal is to create a climate where everybody is responding to it.”

Olympia High School students who feel harassed are encouraged to fill out a complaint form or talk over the situation with a staff member.

“Sometimes people just want to talk to us, to problem solve,” Grant said.

School officials also try to counsel students on how to respond to bullying behavior, he said.

“One of the most important things we can do is address it and try to learn from it and give students the skills to get rid of bullying in the schools,” Grant said.

In recent years, the school has hosted several anti-bullying assemblies. The student leadership team also did several activities this year to help promote a more inclusive environment, Grant said.

But thanks to social media, there are a lot more avenues for bullying these days, Grant said.

“I think the issues are very complex,” he added. “But I also think on a positive side there are a lot of people who say you don’t have to put up with it.”

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433

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