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Investigator eyes Mount Si locker room beating, aftermath

The Snoqualmie Valley School District has released results of an independent investigation into a November 2009 beating that severely injured a Mount Si High School student.

The report, by Seattle-based consultant and private investigator Daphne Schneider, was commissioned in March by Superintendent Joel Aune. Schneider’s report analyzes the aftermath of the beating and concerns by the parent of the 14-year-old student who was attacked at school. Schneider interviewed the boy’s mother and Mount Si staff, and collected police and witness statements. Her report describes the event from multiple perspectives.

According to Snoqualmie police reports, the beating stemmed from an argument in the Mount Si locker room that happened just before the end of the school day on Friday, Nov. 6.

The victim, a 14-year-old freshman, had gotten into an argument with another student following a physical education class. According to several accounts, the friend had been taunted and bullied by this student and other boys over the last six weeks, including name-calling and “gay” insults on and off school grounds. The assault victim, reports stated, would stick up for his friend.

Police reports stated that the victim and another boy were confronting each other in the locker room when an older boy, a 16-year-old junior, heard the argument. He told officers that he heard the younger boy, who he did not know, “talking trash,” walked past him and told him to “tone it down.” He told police that the younger boy offered to fight him, and the two squared off. He told police that he punched the victim once in the face. However, witnesses later told police that they saw the junior punch the boy multiple times, as well as kick or knee him.

The older boy then picked up his backpack and left school grounds.

A teacher found the victim in the locker room, and helped him to the health room. According to staff reports, at one point he was helped back to the locker room to look for his tooth. The boy tried to leave the campus, but was brought back inside by staff. He called his mother, and staff later called 911.

His mother reported that during the ride the hospital, he started vomiting blood, and the ambulance destination was changed from Swedish Hospital’s Issaquah clinic to Overlake Medical Center in Bellevue. Doctors found that the boy had suffered a concussion, a fractured eye orbit, a broken tooth and bruises.

Snoqualmie police investigated the beating, and the 16-year-old suspect was charged with second-degree assault in King County Juvenile Court. A trial is planned for late June.

School staff said they found no evidence of complicity in the beating for the boy with whom the victim had been arguing in the locker room, although the boy’s mother expressed such concerns to school authorities.

In the weeks following the beating, the victim’s mother became concerned about her son’s reintroduction to school. She aired concerns about intimidation by school staff, and was concerned about the school being a safe place for her son.

The alleged assailant has been removed from Mount Si High School and is now attending Two Rivers, an alternative secondary school in the district.

Back in school

While the victim was out of school until January, his mother and district officials attempted to develop a plan for his return to school.

Reports indicate that both parties became increasingly frustrated in the attempt to find a mutually acceptable approach for his return.

State officials were also brought into the situation in January to help resolve those issues, but by the time of a final meeting between the mother and the district in March, school board president Caroline Loudenback found a lack of trust by the mother toward the school administration.

Media reports stated that both the mother of the assault victim and the boy who was taunted have since pulled their sons from Mount Si High School.

Parents of the boys questioned the high school’s administrators and staff’s actions subsequent to the assault, how they are investigated the incident and how district administration handled the results of the investigation.

Notification

One mother stated that the district needed to have better policies dealing with student assaults, and should notify all parents at the school about the incident.

The initial alleged bullying was not reported to school staff until after the assault. The targeted boy denied being taunted with anti-gay slurs.

Superintendent Joel Aune defended the school’s handling of the incident, and Principal Randy Taylor said such public notifications would violate student privacy rights.

Mount Si Gay-Straight Alliance Advisor Eric Goldhammer told the Valley Record that many staff were unaware of the incident until recently.

He explained that when fights happen, the district sends a notification only to the teachers who have classes with the involved students.

“The district is starting to get a better sense of what they can do, but still, all the way up to this point, everything has always been reactive rather than proactive,” Goldhammer said.

He suggests a more active stance, admitting issues and how to address them, and putting plans into play before such crises happen again.

Schneider’s findings found that staff at the high school were focused on the victim’s safety in the aftermath of the beating, but noted that 911 was not called until an hour after the boy was found.

Taylor told the Valley Record Monday that the high school’s 911 policy has been changed as a result of the beating. Previously, a 911 call was at the discretion of the staff.

Now, emergency calls will be made for every student who comes into the nurse’s station with a head injury.

Schneider findings suggest evidence does not support the victim’s family’s concerns about intimidation by staff, but noted that the relationship had badly deteriorated by late winter.

Schneider’s analyses did not look into ways to prevent bullying and harassment.

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