FOX23 News newsletters

Delivered To Your Inbox

Nowata parents file federal bullying case

Updated:

None - Mother and father, Jennifer and T.J. Sutherlin are filing a federal case of bullying against the Nowata Public School District.  

Their son, 11-year-old Seth Sutherlin, has complained and cried to them on a regular basis for the last school year (2011-2012) that his peers were calling him names and physically hurting him.  He also suffers from Aspergers disorder.  It is an Autism Spectrum disorder that affects the social interaction and non-verbal communication.

“There were students on the school bus calling him freak, weird, retard, hitting him in the back of the knees,” said Jennifer Sutherlin. 

Again and again Jennifer was picking him up from school because he was too upset to be allowed to stay, while the kids who were bullying him, she said would just go back to class.

“He started telling me about how he wanted to kill himself because he felt like no one cared about him and no one would help him,” said Jennifer.  “People at school knew this was going on and they weren’t doing anything to help him.”

The school has a zero tolerance policy against bullying. 

“They have a zero tolerance policy, zero tolerance!” exclaimed Jennifer.  “Name calling is grounds for suspension; Seth went through this so much and nothing was ever done.  It was just brushed aside like it wasn’t important but it was vey important because we almost lost our child.”

Seth was hospitalized in February and in May for his suicidal behavior.  Jennifer’s attorney released documents to FOX23 News from medical experts who wrote about Seth’s medical condition.

“It is my understanding that the present school administration has been informed on a number of occasions about Seth Sutherlin being bullied.  The effects of this bullying have been reported to me both by mother and son.  While I do not know what the bullying has been allowed to continue, I can state to a reasonably degree of medical/ psychiatric certainty that is having an adverse and potentially dangerous and self-destructive effect on Seth Sutherlin. 

It is my professional recommendation that if the mother, Jennifer Sutherlin, wishes to have her son transferred from his present school to another one, this request should be honored and immediately authorized.” 

Jennifer called a meeting with the school district in February after her son’s first hospitalization. 

“They told me ‘kids are mean and boys will be boys’,” said Jennifer.

She was not going to settle for that excuse.  Her attorney, Brad Clark, says he and his firm in Oklahoma City have been receiving cases from parents fighting zero tolerance bullying policies.  He believes the Oklahoma bulling legislation needs to have more teeth. Clark tells FOX23 News, all the state can do is see that every school has an anti-bullying policy.  He said at the next legislative session in February there will be legislation discussed to provide opportunities and more choice for families on the zero tolerance policy such as changing the policy to fit the needs of the students. 

The Nowata Public Schools’ attorney responded to FOX23 News about the federal case filing.  His response was:

“All the School District can say to the press is that it believes that the Sutherlins’ claims are unfounded and looks forward to demonstrating such in a court of law.”

Bo Rainey

Rosenstein, Fist & Ringold

The Sutherlins want to change the policy and want students to be able to report the bullying anonymously that way there would not be any “repercussion bullying.” Clark said it is the repercussion bullying that Seth fears could be worse than the original bad behavior.  The Sutherlins also hope to receive treatment paid for by the district after the case is closed. 

Currently, Seth is in a program that is similar to home schooling that way he is protected. 

Clark said if you have a child who is a victim of bullying make sure you are documenting everything, every action, where, when, and who was involved, that way it will help a future case if your child’s situation becomes more serious.