Judge orders dis­trict to make changes af­ter bul­ly­ing episode

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY YESENIA AMARO ya­[email protected]­nobee.com

In 2018, Mia Hol­guin’s 17year-old son told a Tran­quil­lity High School teacher he was hav­ing thoughts of killing him­self.

The teacher walked the spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion stu­dent to his next class and then waited un­til school ended that day – about three hours later – to no­tify Hol­guin.

Hol­guin said she asked the school dis­trict for help for her son af­ter he ex­pe­ri­enced the emo­tional cri­sis in school, but no­body listened.

“I asked them for help and they didn’t re­spond. They didn’t help at all,” she said.

A judge in July ruled the Golden Plains Uni­fied School Dis­trict, which over­sees Tran­quil­lity High and five other schools in west­ern Fresno County, failed Hol­guin’s son and or­dered the dis­trict to make changes that in­clude train­ing spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion staff and other up­dates.

The Fresno Bee is not nam­ing Hol­guin’s son be­cause he is an al­leged vic­tim of bul­ly­ing.

Af­ter the sit­u­a­tion with her son hap­pened, Hol­guin turned to the state’s Of­fice of Ad­min­is­tra­tive Hear­ings for help. An ad­min­is­tra­tive law judge de­cided Golden Plains had a duty to “as­sess the stu­dent’s men­tal health needs fol­low­ing his emo­tional cri­sis at school on (Nov.) 7, 2018, and dis­clo­sure of sui­ci­dal (thoughts),

but failed to do so.”

The school dis­trict had al­ready failed to as­sess him prop­erly a few months ear­lier in April 2018, ac­cord­ing to the de­ci­sion.

In fail­ing to as­sess the stu­dent’s needs, Golden Plains also de­prived the stu­dent of an ap­pro­pri­ate learn­ing plan. The de­ci­sion fur­ther states, that Golden Plains failed to pro­vide suf­fi­cient psychologi­cal and coun­sel­ing ser­vices.

“With­out these ser­vices, stu­dent was un­able to ben­e­fit from his ed­u­ca­tional pro­gram,” the judge wrote.

Golden Plains Su­per­in­ten­dent Martin Ma­cias said he couldn’t com­ment on the specifics of the case. He also did not ad­dress ques­tions re­gard­ing bul­ly­ing and sui­cide pre­ven­tion on cam­pus. In­stead, he is­sued a state­ment:

“We can­not of­fer de­tailed com­ments on this spe­cific sit­u­a­tion be­cause we have a strict obli­ga­tion to pro­tect stu­dent pri­vacy rights. How­ever, I can as­sure our school com­mu­nity that our em­ploy­ees place the high­est pri­or­ity on stu­dent well-be­ing and safety, and we are com­mit­ted to pro­vide all chil­dren with an ex­cel­lent ed­u­ca­tion.”

The judge is re­quir­ing the dis­trict to pro­vide six hours of train­ing to all its spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion staff. The school dis­trict must pro­vide an in­de­pen­dent psy­choe­d­u­ca­tional eval­u­a­tion for Hol­guin’s son, in­clud­ing a so­cial and emo­tional as­sess­ment, and an in­de­pen­dent men­tal health eval­u­a­tion to meet his spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion needs.

The dis­trict must pro­vide 29 hours of in­de­pen­dent men­tal health coun­sel­ing to Hol­guin’s son with a men­tal health provider of his par­ents’ choice. Plus, it must con­tract with a qual­i­fied spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion teacher to pro­vide in­di­vid­ual aca­demic in­struc­tion.

Al­fonso Padron, a par­ent ad­vo­cate who as­sisted Hol­guin on her son’s case, hailed the judge’s de­ci­sion as im­por­tant, es­pe­cially be­cause a few years ago, Cal­i­for­nia be­gan to re­quire school dis­tricts to have sui­cide pre­ven­tion poli­cies in place.

In fall 2016, Cal­i­for­nia ap­proved As­sem­bly Bill 2246, re­quir­ing dis­tricts to im­ple­ment sui­cide pre­ven­tion poli­cies by the 2017-18 school year.

Ad­di­tion­ally, ev­ery school dis­trict is re­quired un­der fed­eral law to pro­vide ap­pro­pri­ate spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion ac­cord­ing to a stu­dent’s needs, Padron said.

“The sever­ity of the is­sues, I think in this case, may res­onate through­out the state of Cal­i­for­nia be­cause ... when you look at the is­sues, (you) are talk­ing about bul­ly­ing, you are talk­ing about sui­cide, you are talk­ing about not com­ply­ing with (spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion stu­dents’ in­di­vid­u­al­ized plans),” said Padron, who works as a par­ent ad­vo­cate for spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion with Ser­vice, Em­ploy­ment and Re­de­vel­op­ment, a non­profit that says it ad­vo­cates in­creased devel­op­ment on the needs of His­pan­ics.

A CRI­SIS ERUPTS

In the case of Hol­guin’s son, a teacher re­ported on the boy’s 2018 stu­dent in­di­vid­u­al­ized plan – a plan ev­ery spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion stu­dent re­ceives once a year – that he wasn’t “ac­cepted by his class­room peers,” ac­cord­ing to the com­plaint filed with the Of­fice of Ad­min­is­tra­tive Hear­ings.

On Nov. 7, 2018, Hol­guin’s son had an emo­tional cri­sis. “Stu­dent be­gan to cry and told (the teacher) that his friends told him that he was ‘so weird’ that he should just kill him­self,” the 60-page de­ci­sion reads. “Stu­dent ex­pressed that maybe he should kill him­self.”

Ac­cord­ing to Hol­guin, she asked the school to help her son af­ter the cri­sis in­ci­dent, but no coun­sel­ing was of­fered.

After­ward, her son be­gan show­ing up at the school’s nurses of­fice, com­plain­ing of stom­achaches and headaches. Hol­guin said that was a re­sult of be­ing bul­lied and not want­ing to be in school. His grades dropped from a 3.14 grade point av­er­age the prior school year to a 1.0 GPA af­ter his November cri­sis, and still no help came.

Ac­cord­ing to the com­plaint, the al­leged bul­ly­ing con­tin­ued af­ter the stu­dent’s emo­tional cri­sis, and on one oc­ca­sion, a stu­dent threw an ap­ple at Hol­guin’s son, hit­ting him in the face.

Af­ter the November in­ci­dent, Hol­guin’s son ended up miss­ing 14 days of school be­cause he didn’t feel safe. Hol­guin said he would cry be­cause he didn’t want to go to school be­cause of the bul­ly­ing.

Dur­ing a spe­cial hear­ing in May, no teacher re­ported see­ing Hol­guin’s son be­ing bul­lied. How­ever, at least one teacher tes­ti­fied she ob­served Hol­guin’s son be­ing un­com­fort­able with her class en­vi­ron­ment, where stu­dents “phys­i­cally pushed each other, used bad lan­guage, and en­gaged in ver­bal bul­ly­ing.”

The teacher “per­sua­sively ex­plained that ver­bal bul­ly­ing and cussing were an on­go­ing prob­lem that ad­min­is­tra­tion had not ef­fec­tively tack­led,” the de­ci­sion reads.

Hol­guin said she was worried about her son’s safety. “I didn’t want to get that other phone call say­ing that some­thing had hap­pened to my son.”

Now that the dis­trict has been put on no­tice by the judge’s de­ci­sion, Hol­guin said she is hope­ful there will be change.

“I’m just wait­ing to see if the school is gonna ac­tu­ally help this time .... now that I have their at­ten­tion.”

A sui­cide pre­ven­tion pol­icy was dis­cussed dur­ing the Golden Plains July 16 board meet­ing, ac­cord­ing to the meet­ing’s agenda.

Padron, the par­ent ad­vo­cate, said Hol­guin’s son’s dis­abil­ity, cou­pled with the bul­ly­ing, “caused emo­tional dis­tur­bance which they should’ve ini­tially, right away on emer­gency ba­sis, as­sessed. “They didn’t do that, and they didn’t do that be­cause they didn’t have the po­lices in place.”

Ma­cias didn’t re­spond to ques­tions about the al­leged bul­ly­ing and sui­cide pre­ven­tion poli­cies at the school dis­trict.

In fis­cal year 2018, there were a total of 2,271 spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion cases filed, statewide, with the Of­fice of Ad­min­is­tra­tive Hear­ings, ac­cord­ing to statis­tics from the of­fice.

Padron said Hol­guin’s case was the first filed with the Of­fice of Ad­min­is­tra­tive Hear­ings against the Golden Plains.

JOHN WALKER [email protected]­nobee.com

Mia Hol­guin, mother of a Tran­quil­ity High stu­dent who she said was be­ing bul­lied, had sui­ci­dal thoughts and was fail­ing in classes, talks about the or­deal. Now that the school dis­trict has been put on no­tice by a judge, she is hope­ful there will be change.

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