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A Michigan mother says staff at Duncan Lake Middle School in Caledonia ignored taking punitive action after her daughter was assaulted and called a “fucking faggot” by a fellow student.
Adrien Mahoney, 14, was celebrating National Hug Day with friends the night of the incident last year on Aug. 31, according to a sheriff’s report filed by Caledonia School Resource Officer Patrick Frederick. Mahoney claims a male student at a high school football game assaulted her after she asked him for a hug, resulting in a black eye as well as bruises and scratches on her face.
Mahoney’s mother Sarah, along with her attorney Christine Yared, have been fighting to get an answer from school leadership for six months regarding punishment. Yared believes the sluggish response is due in part to Mahoney’s gender expression.
“Adrien is a girl but has a gender expression that is male,” Yared said. “And to us that’s a significant part of this and why they think it’s fine.”
According to GLSEN research, incidents of physical assault (e.g., punched, kicked, or injured with a weapon) are less often reported, but nevertheless, more than a third of middle school students (39 percent) have been assaulted in school because of their sexual orientation and about a quarter (24 percent) because of their gender expression.
Many middle school students who were harassed or assaulted in school never reported the incident to adult authorities – 57 percent never told school staff and 50 percent never told a parent or other family member. Among middle school students who did tell school authorities about an incident, less than a third (29 percent) said that reporting resulted in effective intervention by school staff.
Following months of unanswered questions, Mahoney’s mother and Yared brought their concerns to the Caledonia school board meeting on Feb. 27. Yared said a couple other attendees also spoke up in support of Mahoney.
Caledonia Community Schools Interim Superintendent Dirk Weeldreyer told WOODTV8 the night of the meeting that the incident is being handled.
“I believe the appropriate steps were taken,” Weeldreyer said. “It certainly hurts us whenever there is someone who feels they are being unfairly targeted or whatever and so it’s something we take very seriously and we will continue to look into.”
Weeldreyer made similar comments when he spoke with BTL.
“We did follow our processes on this case,” he said. “We will certainly continue to speak with the parent and try to work through remaining issues.”
Yared was surprised and confused by Weeldreyer’s statement from Tuesday night.
“We don’t know what that means,” Yared said. “This week was the first time we’ve heard that in six months.”
The school’s student handbook states students should receive a minimum two-day suspension for aggressive behavior that is considered a major offense. Yared is unsure if Weeldreyer’s statement means the alleged assailant will be suspended.
Mahoney’s mother said she heard rumors that her daughter went in for a hug without asking. She doesn’t believe this is the case.
“I’ve been her mom for 14 years – she doesn’t act that way,” she said.
The school district will ultimately be responsible for disciplinary action. After receiving a petition on Feb. 20 for charges of assault and battery against the male student, Kent County Undersheriff Michelle Young explained the criminal justice process “rarely” handles assaults between middle school students.
Mahoney’s mother and Yared plan to bring the matter to the Kent County Board of Commissioners next where they’ll make public comments and discuss issues with deputies. Mahoney’s mother told BTL the initial deputy who her daughter reported the assault to also failed in following up.
“Adrien had bruises on her cheekbones, eye, and I think her soul honestly,” she said. “You can’t always see any bruise someone has, and it’s really sad to watch her go through this.”
Federal student privacy laws prevent district officials from commenting on an ongoing investigation, but Weeldreyer said the district is committed to providing a safe and protective environment for all its students.