Nowata parents file federal bullying case

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Updated: 11/30/2012 8:41 am Published: 11/29/2012 10:13 pm

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. 

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The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of KOKI FOX23 - Tulsa

DWontheplains - 11/30/2012 8:20 PM
0 Votes
It should be a state wide law that for first offense bullying should be a week suspension and a second offense suspended for the rest of the year. That would get some parents attention. I went through the same thing and nothing was done. I hope she sues the hell out of the school and then maybe other schools will start to do the right thing.

soonermagic - 11/30/2012 12:17 PM
2 Votes
@sk9tr1511..... I agree. However, there are so many loopholes in the system. Policies are rewritten yearly because parents will find loopholes and enable their child. Also, with the increasing popularity of parents threatening lawsuits to the school, administrators have to be careful and follow policy and procedures. I am not disagreeing with you, I just wish more peole thought like that. This is a sad story out of Nowata. I feel for this family and this child.

sk9tr1511 - 11/30/2012 10:43 AM
1 Vote cant respect authority when there is none to be sought. if the "administrators" started disciplining the kids they would start to get the picture that "hey, if i do this im gonna get in trouble so maybe i wont do that". if that was the story then maybe yall wouldnt have o so many piles of write ups jus laying around

tiredbeingsad - 11/30/2012 8:51 AM
1 Vote
So sad that a SCHOOL would not defend a child, but instead fight against the correction?? that seems odd to me. Sounds like PARENTS need to start at home teaching their child RESPECT and CONSEQUENCES and then the school should stand as a united front with the parents against this type of behavior. It cannnot be allowed and for a school to defend itself AGAINST any child is disgusting and they should be ashamed of themselves. I hope the school learns a valuable lesson from this and PARENTS would wake up and start diciplining their children for treating others this way.. the parents of the these bullys need to get a hold of these kids and teach them right from wrong. I know no parent is perfect and you cannot control your children 24 hrs a day but I certainly think that parenting is a huge role in how we treat each other and what is allowed an what is not allowed. If I had been a bully my mother would have fixed that in 2 mins...she loved me and taught me that I better treat others right or there would be consequences.. and not only that but its the right thing to do. This world is turning into a toilet full of jerks.

soonermagic - 11/30/2012 8:42 AM
3 Votes
i am a teacher, and I see bullying almost on a daily basis I report it to administrators and most the time it is ignored or kids are just "slapped" on the hand. The problem is that there are so many issues with todays youth. They have no respect for authority. Administrators have piles of "write ups" on their desks because parents do not teach their children to respect authority and how to act. I am completely against bullying! It should not happen. However, our administrators are swamped with work and it continues to pile on, as standards are going up (which requires much more work for administrators) and the state continues to cut the budget, therefore, cutting administration jobs. We need more help from our community to teach our children how to act and respect authority. We also need help from our community on stressing to our local government how important education is.

sk9tr1511 - 11/30/2012 12:23 AM
2 Votes
bullying is just like fighting. so if kids can get away with bullying with no discipline, then let kids get into fights and just slap em on the wrist and say "dont do it again"...its stupid the superintendents need the discipline cuz their not doing anything about it. i was bullied when i was in school and the only thing that was done was a phone call to the parents. woot!! that didnt do a darn thing cuz it still went on
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