The Natrona County School District has appointed a local attorney to handle a review of how it handled a recent bullying incident.
Craig Silva, of the Williams Porter Day & Neville firm, was selected as the investigator last week, Superintendent Steve Hopkins said. Hopkins said the district was not placing a time limit on Silva’s investigation in order to avoid interfering with his work. As a result, the district does not have an idea of how much the review will cost, though the superintendent said that information — as well as the findings of Silva’s investigation — will be made publicly available after the investigation concludes.
Silva did not return a request for comment last week. Hopkins said the investigation is estimated to be concluded by the end of November.
The review was announced Nov. 11, a few hours after a Star-Tribune report was published detailing an October bullying incident on a school bus that turned into an off-bus fight that left a seventh-grader concussed. The district punished two girls for the bullying on the bus and suspended the bullying victim and another student for the fight that happened off the bus that resulted in the seventh-grader’s injuries.
The entire event was captured on school bus video. The district has declined to say which student was the aggressor or threw the first punch; officials have said that detail doesn’t matter, only that both students were involved. Steve Ellbogen, the district’s executive director for business services, told the Star-Tribune that the seventh-grader followed the other girl off of the bus, rather than turning in the other direction and heading toward her home.
The seventh-grader and her mother disagree. They describe the 12-year-old being pinned against a fence and beaten by three girls. They suspect there was a second attack that wasn’t captured on video.
The district disputes that any other girls were involved and say there’s little evidence to support the claim that there was a second incident.
The seventh-grader’s mother, Amber O’Donnell, told the Star-Tribune she is considering litigation. That statement seems to have played a role in triggering Silva’s investigation. Hopkins said the district has asked for third-party investigations in the past, when “there has been a threat of litigation, when directed by the Board of Trustees, when advised by our attorney, and when advised by our insurance company.”
“For this particular situation, the parent of the student has made a public statement of litigation,” Hopkins wrote in an answer to written questions from the Star-Tribune.
O’Donnell’s daughter has not returned to school since the Oct. 2 incident due to the concussion. She was suspended but the punishment was served during her medical leave. The district said it has not heard of any injuries sustained by the other students involved in the bullying and fighting incident.