EL RENO — Two parents are suing Yukon Public Schools for negligence, alleging school officials didn't do enough to protect their children from bullying and harassment within the district's FFA program.
A lawsuit filed Friday afternoon in Canadian County District Court claims the children of Debra Wright and Dana Soupene, who are now high school seniors, were harassed and bullied by fellow students and former vocational agriculture instructors after an investigation into Yukon's FFA program.
The suit claims the two 17-year-old girls were targeted because Wright, her husband and Soupene discovered a former agriculture instructor was “skimming” on livestock purchases.
An investigative audit into the district's FFA program uncovered numerous instances of possible misconduct and confirmed that some instructors were charging some parents more than they paid for livestock, a practice known as “skimming.”
District Superintendent Bill Denton said Monday afternoon that he had not seen the lawsuit, but said he is well-aware of the circumstances described in the court documents.
“We investigated these allegations back two years ago,” Denton said of the allegations of bullying. “And we've given them, numerous times, the documentation of that investigation. So, I have no idea what legitimacy comes with this type of lawsuit … this type of legal action.”
Denton also expressed frustration with Wright and her husband, Randy, who have numerous open records requests pending with Yukon Public Schools. The couple also recently won an $18,000 judgment from the district for attorney fees related to an open records lawsuit.
The Wrights had been seeking a copy of the investigative report into the district's FFA program.
“It's getting very tiring, and it's creating a lot of tension in our school and in our community,” Denton said of the latest lawsuit. “We are taking people off their regular jobs to work on these requests … so they're not doing their jobs.”
The lawsuit filed Friday alleges that Wright's daughter, who has since transferred schools, was harassed by former Yukon agriculture instructors while she was showing an animal at the Tulsa State Fair.
The lawsuit also claims that Yukon school counselors encouraged the girl on “multiple occasions that it would be best for her to transfer schools.”
Soupene's daughter, who was an FFA officer as a junior last school year, was excluded from group events and was “misinformed” on one occasion about an officer meeting.
“On May 9, 2012, Vo-Ag teacher Tim Herren sent (the girl) on an errand to pick up deposit slips,” the lawsuit states. “Upon returning, (the girl) was locked out of the Ag office by other Vo-Ag students. (The girl) knocked on the door and the window, but was ignored by three students in the office.”
The girl also was the only junior FFA officer who wasn't re-elected to her post last year, court records show.
Court documents state that “agents” of the Yukon school district and other FFA parents “improperly urged” Wright and Soupene to keep the “skimming” allegations quiet.
“When Plaintiff Wright attended a Vo-Ag parents' meeting in February 2011, she was approached by another parent and told the allegations of skimming should be kept in-house and kept quiet to protect the students and the program,” the lawsuits states.
Denton said the school district would only respond to the allegations in court and would not comment on specifics until that time. He said did say that bullying was something Yukon Public Schools doesn't tolerate.
“We have an absolute, no-tolerance bullying policy,” Denton said. “We have extensive training for our students, our parents … all of our staff are trained. We have a very limited amount of bullying, but when we do, we take it very seriously and we investigate those allegations.”
Wright and Soupene issued a joint statement Monday afternoon, saying the bullying and harassment has been hard on their daughters.
“As a result of our coming forward and bringing evidence of massive criminal and fraudulent activity in the Yukon Ag department, our innocent daughters have been bullied, harassed, isolated, and discriminated against by faculty, parents and students alike,” the women said. “The behavior these innocent girls have been subjected to and the experiences they have lost as a result of our coming forward is the real tragedy in this terrible situation.”