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Bullying turns into legal stir

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The Ellis County Press
                RED OAK – What was once alleged harassment and bullying on MySpace between junior high cheerleaders is now a legal fight between parents and school officials.

                Keith and Pam Johnson, owners of a website called CorruptRedOakISD.com, brought forth allegations in the form of a criminal complaint that Red Oak Jr. High cheerleading coach June Burrow tampered with a government document by altering a cheerleader constitution to allow for a suspended member of the team to try out the following year. That cheerleader in question was punished for issues relating to bullying of Johnson’s daughter, Ryann.

                However, the issue has centered on whether the changing of a constitution is the same as tampering with a government document.

                Red Oak ISD Police Chief Scott Lindsey said it’s not the same.

“…I am sorry he cannot move forward months later, but I have,” stated Lindsey, who also serves as a Red Oak councilman, in an e-mailed statement. “I let this issue bother me and my family long enough. I did exactly what I should have done, I forwarded his concerns to the district attorney who prosecutes criminal cases. He [Johnson] is a police officer and should know that no police officer no matter what investigation is done can prosecute a criminal offense. I did not feel the facts met the criteria of the charge he was seeking.”

Specifically, the original constitution students and parents agreed to had originally stated “If any member is dismissed from or quits the team, they will be subject to ineligibility to try out the following year.”

In a past e-mail sent to school officials and parents of the cheerleaders, Burrow admitted to using various versions of the cheerleading constitution, thinking she had the correct version. Burrow and school board trustees, after repeated attempts, did not return messages and e-mails seeking comment for this story.

Burrow stated in an e-mail dated March 1 of 2007 she and ROJH principal Morris Watson re-evaluated the cheerleading constitution in January of 2006 with the clause pertaining to member eligibility being removed.

“Once we finalized the constitution, I prepared the packages that each cheerleading candidate received and signed,” Burrow stated. “It was my intention to include the revised constitution in that package.”

Burrow said she thought with 100 percent certainty that her eligibility clause was removed, which in turn paved the way for the dismissed cheerleader to tryout for the 2007-2008 school year.

“This was based on my certainty that I had published the revised constitution,” she said. “When you guys [Johnsons] filed your formal complaint with Mr. Watson regarding the bullying of Ryann, you gave him a copy of a cheerleading constitution which he shared with me.”

Burrow noted the constitution the Johnsons used was dated for the 2004-2005 school year; “…it was my mistake that the old constitution was still posted and it was my responsibility to ascertain that the correct document was available.”

Burrow said she removed the ’04-’05 constitution and replaced it with the revised constitution. The replacement constitution, however, still contained the eligibility clause, which resulted in Watson, who resigned two days after the Johnsons made their complaints known in a school board meeting, asking Burrow which constitution was in place at the time of the new school year.

“I was puzzled as to why they [school officials] would ask this question,” Burrow stated in her e-mail. “The question came as a result of a 2006-2007 constitution that you guys [Johnson] produced that still contained the clause stating that if a cheerleader was dismissed from the squad, she would be ineligible to tryout the following year. I could not for the life of me figure out where you had gotten this document. Again, I fully believed that I had given everyone the revised constitution. When I went back to my computer and looked at the 2006-2007 tryout packet file, it was obvious what had happened; I never gave you guys, or any other cheerleading candidate, the revised constitution. It was now clear why you guys were so upset about a cheerleader who was removed from the squad being allowed to tryout for next year’s squad.”

Burrow has since been reassigned to another department with the school district, but Johnson said he had to withdraw his daughter after pressures mounted from classmates and cheerleader parents, who oftentimes made a “spectacle” out of his fight against the school system.

“From where I stand, I see a culture of quid pro-quo within the district, with those in the inner circle more focused on covering each other rather than dealing openly with problems that arise,” Johnson said. “Probably the event(s) that could solve this entire problem would be a complete and open disclosure by the district acknowledging how poorly they handled this incident…this acknowledgment would have to be published in local media venues; the district would have to force its employees to face the consequences over their individual roles in all of this.

“Since the cheerleader contract specifically called for dismissal, the cheerleader had to be dismissed from the team. Burrows and Watson, however, waited eight days to take her off the team, and on Dec. 7, finally enforced the contract and told the girl she had to leave the team. Burrow allowed the girl to participate in team pictures before dismissing her from the team. After the girl was finally removed, she was invited by Burrow to the awards banquet![emphasis his] Inviting this girl to the banquet, in my opinion, was to prolong the hostile environment my daughter was subjected to. Burrow also, by inviting the girl to the banquet, violated the student code of conduct that states, ‘a student who has been suspended from extra-curricular activity events may practice or rehearse, but not participate in games or events.’ According to our attorney, the booster club banquet, sanctioned by the school district, is most certainly an event. Dismissed should mean dismissed.”

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