Jury trial under way in school lawsuit
An eight-person jury in Kansas City, Kan., began hearing testimony Tuesday afternoon, in the first day of a federal trial over a lawsuit against the Tonganoxie school district.
In the lawsuit, which was filed in May 2004, former Tonganoxie student Dylan Theno alleges he was subjected to years of sexual discrimination in the form of bullying and, therefore, denied access to an education. He further alleges the Tonganoxie school district was aware of the problem.
U.S. District Judge John Lungstrum has set aside eight days for the trial. No proceedings will be held next Monday, according to Lungstrum, who told jurors he anticipates they will begin their deliberations by the middle or end of next week.
Theno was the first and only witness jurors heard from on Tuesday.
Theno detailed, year by year, how other students called him names, including faggot, flamer, pussy, and started sexual rumors about him that "spread all around the school."
Theno said the harassment was so bad that he begged his parents to let him leave school early. They finally relented, he said, in November of his junior year. Theno later completed a GED degree and began taking classes at Johnson County Community College.
Theno said that he reported the incidents to school officials, but that many times the officials did little. And other times, their intervention exacerbated Theno's problems.
"It goes on," Theno's attorney Arthur Benson said in his opening statement. "It doesn't stop. It gets worse. ... It's become part of the school culture."
Theno admitted that he, at times, lashed out at other students, even fighting with them.
"People just kept poking at me and poking at me until I couldn't take it anymore," he said.
Theno said the harassment began in seventh grade and didn't end until he left Tonganoxie schools, three months into his junior year.
"He's still dealing with the consequences after all these years," Benson said of his client.
While Theno's attorney painted a picture of Theno as a student who was different from most in Tonganoxie schools, the district's attorney, Steve Pigg, said Theno's situation had nothing to do with gender-based sexual discrimination.
"The problem is not somebody else," Pigg said. "The problem is Dylan Theno."
He said school officials dealt with problems that Theno reported to them.