Allegations of waterboarding in a high school locker room have prompted an intense community discussion in Casper, with parents and students venting about bullying issues within the district and criticizing how officials and schools have responded to incidents.
The debates began on social media, but reached the Natrona County school board on Monday, when officials faced withering public criticism that extended beyond the district’s response to the waterboarding report. Sources told the Star-Tribune last week that a KW student was held down and waterboarded by some of his teammates on the wrestling team.
“I believe that the school district has a very big bullying issue and the policies aren’t strong enough,” Kelly Walsh senior Dylan Thompson told the board Monday night.
“Back when I was in sixth grade, I went to Centennial Junior High School, and I was bullied,” he continued. “Some kids thought I was gay just because I wore a little golf hat I thought was cool. When we brought that up to (the school administrators), they did nothing about it.”
Thompson’s comments were followed by Katrina Snyder, who described how her eighth-grade son and his friends feel unsafe at school, especially if only one of them is alone in the lunch room because “the star football players gang up on them.”
“The high school community has already failed him,” she said. “He told me last year, ‘Mom, I’m not going to play basketball in high school.’
“Do you know why?” she asked the board. “Because he knows that the adults in this school district don’t protect him. They don’t protect him as a middle schooler, in the locker room, in the lunch room or anything involving sports.”
The two were not alone in expressing concern not only with the waterboarding allegations, but with bullying district-wide. A number of other speakers also rose and asked board members what they would do to ensure the safety of students.
Home school parent Dan Sabrosky asked board members if they would ever respond to the alleged waterboarding. The district has repeatedly refused to provide details, citing privacy concerns. Chairwoman Rita Walsh reiterated that position to Sabrosky, but she suggested the board may provide more information later if it was legally possible.
“Political answer, appreciate it, I guess,” he responded.
“That’s the reason we have problems with bullying in this community because the adults in this community, from the school board to the parents, seem to be cowards,” Sabrosky continued. “If you’re going to foster weakness, you’re going to create a bullying problem.”
The frustrations were not isolated to the meeting. In the Facebook comments on several Star-Tribune articles about the waterboarding allegations, a number of parents and current and former students said they or their children were bullied.
“I’ve had bullying incidents where my kid was the victim and no one really did much at all,” wrote Angel Wiginton on Monday morning.
“For as long as I’ve had kids in the NCSD schools the general attitude of those in positions to do something about bullying has been, ‘oh well. Kids shouldn’t do things that get them bullied,’” Angelina Paul said on the Star-Tribune’s post about the original waterboarding story.
The board rarely responds to comments from the public during its bi-monthly meetings. But Walsh said Monday it was possible that the board would have a work session — meetings that take place before the formal board meetings — to address bullying in the future.
At the end of their meetings, school board members may respond to the public on any other topic they choose to mention.
On Monday night, nearly all nine members referenced the waterboarding allegations, and a few touched on the broader frustrations related to bullying throughout the district.
“I know the public is frustrated with the bullying problem, as are we,” trustee Clark Jensen said. “I have nine kids who went through the school district, and I will admit that bullying has been a problem with some of my kids in the process.”
“It would be nice if this were a perfect school system. It’s not,” he continued. “The Titanic is hard to turn.”
But he asked the crowd to have “some perspective.” He defended district officials and said they were doing great things. He attributed the bullying problems to “a few bad apples.”