A Teen’s Fight for Safety in School
A North Texas teen who suffered a head injury after four other girls beat her on a school bus has been in the same classroom with one of her attackers for a month, despite objections from the teen’s mother.
Ashley Duerte told The Epoch Times she met with a counselor at Denton Independent School District before the academic year started to ensure the school didn’t place any of the alleged attackers in classes with her daughter.
The incident, which occurred at the end of last school year, was captured on cell phone video and shared on social media. It resulted in aggravated assault charges filed against two attackers, Ms. Duerte said.
One of the students charged, now a freshman like her daughter, attended alternative school during the first weeks of the semester.
But once the accused attacker was released from alternative school the week of Sept. 13, she was inexplicably placed in the same class as her daughter, Ms. Duerte said.
“I was upset because it was a very small request that I made to the counselor,” she said.
Ms. Duerte said she would like to see Texas pass school choice during a special session on the issue that began this week. That way parents can remove students from situations where schools are “full of broken promises.”
The 88th Texas Legislature began its third special session on Oct. 9, with Governor Greg Abbott calling lawmakers back into Austin to consider the issue of legislation that will permit the diversion of some public funds to private schools and other issues.
In April, the Senate passed a measure permitting up to $8,000 per student to be given back to families to help pay for private school tuition, tutoring services, and other education-related expenses, but the process stalled in the House.
“I have learned that our school system really does not care for the well-being and safety of our children,” Ms. Duerte said.
She added her daughter felt “a lot of fear” when the student charged with her assault was assigned to the same classroom, worrying the girl may attempt to hurt her again.
Ms. Duerte said the assistant principal called her on Oct. 10, after The Epoch Times contacted the school for comment, to say they would work on removing the other student.
She was not in class on Oct. 11.
Ms. Duarte, who is Hispanic, said she tried to change schools for her younger children because one of the attackers, still in middle school, was using racial slurs against her son.
But Denton ISD declined the request, and Ms. Duerte said she could not afford to home-school her children.
She said the unprovoked attack happened on May 16, 2023, when her daughter was in 8th grade at middle school.
Cell phone recordings of the bus incident posted on social media showed students gathered around as the attackers held her daughter’s head down and repeatedly pummeled her while some cheered and used profanity.
The bus driver took no action to stop the incident, Ms. Duarte said.
She took her daughter to the emergency room after the incident. Her daughter suffered scratches on her arms and neck, bruises, and was diagnosed with a mild concussion.
The mother said she contacted Citizens Defending Freedom (CDF) after the school placed the accused attacker in her daughter’s class because she no longer trusted the school.
The conservative watchdog group champions parental rights, transparency in local government, and Constitutional rights.
“I just don’t want to think that it was done purposely,” Ms. Duerte said.
“But I did all the precautionary steps that I thought I needed to do to avoid this from happening,” she added. “And she still ended up in the same class.”
Julie Zwahr, Denton ISD’s chief communications officer, told The Epoch Times the district could not comment on specifics involving students due to privacy laws but that “safety and security” is a priority.
“It is our practice that when a student enrolls at a new school, we honor separating students when there is direct communication from a parent regarding their student, especially concerning previous peer conflict,” she wrote in an email.
“We will continue to work daily with our community, including students, parents, and staff, to ensure the expectations of appropriate behavior and the support of one another remains our focus,” she stated.
Jonathan Hullihan, general counsel and director of legal operations for CDF in Texas, said Ms. Duerte contacted him to help get the situation resolved.
Mr. Hullihan emailed Denton ISD’s attorney Deron Robinson on Sept. 26, asking that the accused assailant be removed from the daughter’s classroom to protect her from “further violence, bullying or aggressive behavior.”
The school attorney responded that neither Ms. Duarte nor her daughter had expressed concerns since the accused attacker returned to class.
Mr. Robinson’s email stated if the mother wanted to remove her daughter from the class, she should contact the counselor.
“Having parents and students work directly with campus staff is always the best and most efficient method for solving any concerns,” he wrote.
Mr. Robinson’s email explained that counselors are assigned based on a student’s last name, meaning the counselor assigned to her daughter wouldn’t necessarily know when the accused assailant returned to school.
Slow to Act
But even with CDF’s demand letter on Oct. 4, the school did not act, Mr. Hullihan told The Epoch Times.
“Mrs. Duarte has lost trust and confidence that asserting her parental rights and the rights of her daughter as a victim of a crime will be protected or taken seriously by working directly with Denton ISD campus staff,” Mr. Hullihan stated in the demand letter.
Ms. Duerte said her daughter was traumatized by the incident and is still recovering.
Over the summer, she didn’t want to go out of the house because she was afraid of running into the girls who assaulted her.
“She’s still kind of hesitant when she goes out anywhere,” she said. “It just sucks.”
Ms. Duerte said the schools care more about funding and meeting attendance quotas than the “safety of our children.”
Mr. Hullihan said placing a student facing criminal charges for previous violent behavior in the same classroom as the victim was inexcusable.
“I am happy that this matter seems to be resolved,” he said. “However, it is unfortunate it seems to have only been resolved after public awareness through social and news media.”
What steps should schools take to ensure the safety of their students, especially in cases of violence or assault?
A Teen’s Fight for Safety in School
A North Texas teen has been fighting for her safety in school after suffering a head injury from a violent incident. Despite her mother’s objections, the school has placed her in the same classroom as one of her attackers. This alarming situation raises questions about the school’s responsibility to protect their students.
Ashley Duerte, the mother of the victim, had met with a counselor at Denton Independent School District before the academic year started to ensure that none of the alleged attackers would be placed in classes with her daughter. However, it seems that her concerns were not taken seriously. The incident, which happened at the end of the previous school year, was even captured on cell phone video and shared on social media. Two of the attackers are now facing aggravated assault charges.
One of the accused students had initially been sent to an alternative school at the start of the semester, but was later transferred back to the regular school and placed in the same class as the victim. This decision by the school administration is deeply concerning and raises questions about their commitment to the safety and well-being of their students.
Ms. Duerte expressed her disappointment with the school’s handling of the situation. She expressed her frustration by stating, “I was upset because it was a very small request that I made to the counselor.” It is disheartening to see that such a simple request was not honored, especially considering the trauma that her daughter has already endured.
In light of this incident, Ms. Duerte has voiced her support for the passing of school choice legislation in Texas. She believes that parents should have the option to remove their children from schools that do not prioritize their safety. The timing of her statement is notable, as the 88th Texas Legislature has recently started a special session to consider legislation on various issues, including school choice.
School choice would allow parents to divert public funds to private schools, giving them more options and control over their children’s education. While this proposal may face its own set of challenges and criticisms, it is crucial to address the issue of student safety and provide parents with the ability to choose the best educational environment for their children.
The case of this North Texas teen highlights the importance of creating a safe and secure learning environment for all students. It is the responsibility of schools to prioritize the well-being of their students and take appropriate actions to prevent any further harm. This incident serves as a reminder that more needs to be done to ensure the safety of students and to address the concerns of parents. School choice legislation may be one avenue to explore in order to provide parents with the ability to protect their children and hold schools accountable for their actions.
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