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October 1, 2014

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2 families scarred by chronic bullying sue for changes at CCSD

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Sam Morris

Kyle Bryan listens while Aimee Hairr talks about the lawsuit filed by the ACLU on their behalf against Clark County school officials Tuesday, April 29, 2014.

Updated Tuesday, April 29, 2014 | 10:54 p.m.

The parents wore purple wristbands with a simple message: ♥ Hailee ♥ Stop Bullying.

Purple was Hailee Joy Lamberth’s favorite color. In December, the White Middle School seventh-grader killed herself, leaving behind a farewell note that tied bullying to her suicide.

Hailee was 13 years old, an honors student who loved soccer, camping and spending time with her family and friends. Her high-profile death has prompted the parents of two Las Vegas boys — also victims of bullies — to take action against bullying in the Clark County School District.

Kyle and Mary Bryan and Heath and Aimee Hairr filed a lawsuit Monday against the School District, arguing its leaders failed to protect their sons against bullies who harassed them almost daily, causing one of them to consider taking his own life.

The boys, now 13 and 14, are around the same age as Hailee when she committed suicide.

“If we had done something sooner, maybe Hailee might still be alive," Kyle Bryan said of the lawsuit. “No child should have to consider ending their life because of bullying.”

The civil complaint, filed in Clark County District Court, seeks changes in district policy, unspecified damages and a jury trial. It named Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky, School Board members and administrators at Greenspun Junior High School as defendants.

It also accused the Nevada Equal Rights Commission of dragging its feet on an investigation and failing to resolve the issue nearly two years after an earlier complaint was filed. Spokeswomen for the School District and the commission declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, which filed the complaint on the parents’ behalf, called the lawsuit an “unprecedented action” to protect students from bullying.

“No parent should have to bring a lawsuit to ensure their child is safe, but that’s what we’ve been forced to do,” Amanda Morgan, an ACLU staff attorney, said. “The Clark County School District failed these families. The Nevada Equal Rights Commission failed these families. That is unacceptable.”

•••

The bullying began in fall 2011, when the boys entered sixth grade at the Henderson middle school, according to the lawsuit.

During band class, a student identified in the complaint only by his initials began harassing the Hairrs' son, then 11, for having long hair. The student called the boy homophobic slurs.

Bryan’s son, then 12, stood up for the boy, his friend. But the bully turned his taunts against the older boy, accusing the two of being “gay boyfriends.”

Over the next several months, the bullying escalated from verbal taunts to physical assaults, such as unwanted touching, hair pulling, elbowing and pushing. Eventually, the bully stabbed the younger boy in the genitals with a pencil and beat the older boy on his legs with the slider of a trombone.

“To hear my son go through that was ridiculous,” Heath Hairr said. “When we dropped him off at school, we expected him to be in a safe environment.”

•••

Click to enlarge photo

Aimee Hairr listens while Kyle Bryan talks about the lawsuit filed by the ACLU on their behalf against Clark County school officials Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Several weeks after school started, Mary Bryan overheard the two boys talking in her house about the bullying, and confronted her son.

Appalled by the abuse, Bryan dashed an email to the school principal, counselor and band teacher, informing them of the bullying and urging them to move the boys’ seats.

A counselor spoke with the younger boy about the bullying, but didn’t offer any solutions, according to the complaint. The band teacher switched the younger boy’s seat, which was adjacent to the bully’s, to one directly in front of him.

The school failed to respond to Mary Bryan’s email and didn’t notify the Hairrs that their son was being bullied, according to the complaint.

It was only at a birthday party nearly a week later when Aimee Hairr first learned that her son was being sexually harassed and assaulted at school.

The next morning, Hairr called the school several times to schedule a meeting with the principal. After being bounced around from official to official, the mother was able to meet with a dean, who did not offer any “safety plan” to protect her son, the complaint said.

Hairr said she didn’t feel comfortable with the result of the conversation with the dean, but felt hopeful that the school would take action so she didn’t file a police report.

“I trusted the school,” Hairr said. “In hindsight, I wish I hadn’t trusted them so much.”

•••

Shortly after the meeting, the bullying stopped in the band class, but continued elsewhere on campus.

The younger boy’s grades began to drop. He also began lashing out toward his younger siblings.

Alarmed by her son’s changed behavior, Aimee Hairr notified the school of the bullying again.

After a second meeting with the school counselor, dean and the band teacher, Hairr’s son was moved farther away from his bully. However, Mary Bryan’s son was was moved closer to the bully.

After the seat change, Bryan’s son began receiving the brunt of the bullying, which included a litany of homophobic and offensive slurs.

Shortly before winter break, the bully and his friends filmed themselves taunting the older boy and recorded his reaction. The bullies threatened to post the smartphone video on YouTube.

Mary Bryan sent multiple emails and met with several school administrators, asking them to help her son and others who were being bullied. However, all she received was a “tepid” response from the school, according to the complaint.

“They did nothing,” Bryan said. “There was zero accountability. It was alarming.”

•••

The Bryans pushed harder for school officials to take greater action to protect their son.

However, CCSD Police discouraged the parents from filing police reports, the complaint said. Mary Bryan, an active school parent, also was barred from volunteering on campus after she filed a formal complaint with the central office.

“They were bullying us,” Kyle Bryan said. “They ignored us and then intimidated us. My wife was literally escorted off-campus by a vice principal.”

Meanwhile, Bryan’s son was falling into depression, he said. The boy turned to self-mutilation, tearing his fingernails off, and ate cardboard paper so he would be too sick to attend class. He also began suffering from recurring nightmares.

Eventually, the boy began to contemplate suicide, Mary Bryan said. In February, the boy asked his mother if he could stay behind to work on a school project while she took his siblings to a sports practice.

One of his siblings told Mary Bryan not to leave the boy behind unattended. The mother dug through her son’s recent online search history. She found he was looking for what chemicals to ingest to kill himself.

Bryan, with tears streaming down her face, said she stayed up all night to prevent her son from committing suicide.

•••

Click to enlarge photo

Heath Hairr listens while Mary Bryan talks about the lawsuit filed by the ACLU on their behalf against Clark County school officials Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Soon afterward, the Bryans and Hairrs decided to pull their children out of Greenspun middle school.

“I had no choice, but to rip them out of school to protect them,” Aimee Hairr said. “But my son will never be the same. I am never getting that child back. That innocence is gone.”

Hairr’s son went to a charter school; the Bryans' boy was enrolled in a private Christian academy. For a period of time, both boys saw therapists to cope with the trauma of six months of bullying, the parents said.

Although the boys began to recover, their parents were worried about their former classmates. They began working with the ACLU of Nevada to file a complaint with the Nevada Equal Rights Commission, who has the authority to require the School District to comply with state anti-bullying laws and revise its anti-bullying policies.

However, after nearly two years and dozens of correspondence back and forth, there’s been no indication of any progress, said Staci Pratt, the ACLU’s legal director.

"They’re toothless tigers. They have refused to act,” Pratt said. “Justice delayed is justice denied.”

Frustrated with the lack of progress, the Bryans, Hairrs and the ACLU decided to sue the School District.

“We don’t think the School District has taken responsibility,” Pratt said. “This is a school that has tolerated bullying. It’s time for a culture change.”

•••

During a news conference Tuesday, the parents said the lawsuit isn’t about seeking damages, but about holding the School District accountable for failing to adequately protect its students from bullying. They want the district to use an independent ombudsman to investigate bullying cases and to hold school officials accountable for failing to combat bullying.

Although the School District lets students and parents anonymously notify campus administrators of bullying through its website, it has been criticized for failing to respond quickly and appropriately to those bullying reports.

Just like the Hairrs weren’t notified of their son’s bullying, Jason Lamberth said he found out his daughter was being bullied after reading her suicide note.

However, several days prior to her death, White Middle School officials received a bullying report concerning Hailee Lamberth. Her father said he was never contacted about that report.

Jason Lamberth, who attended the press conference to support the Bryans and Hairrs, said he might consider legal action against the School District on behalf of his daughter.

“I won’t rule out any possibilities,” he said.

In May, an internal task force is expected to present recommendations on the district’s bullying policies.

"Bullying has been around for a long time," Skorkowsky said. "It's something we have to address head on."

Meanwhile, the Bryans and Hairrs said they will continue to fight to change how the School District handles bullying cases.

“We’re here so we can prevent any more deaths,” Aimee Hairr said. “Bullying has to end. We want our kids to be safe.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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