HANOVER TOWNSHIP, Pa. — Jared Swank had a great time at his senior prom last weekend, but the happiness turned into disgust when a teacher he trusted showed a video of him dancing with his transgender date to students in her classroom on Monday.
Swank, an 18-year-old senior at Hanover Area High School, has been openly gay since the eighth grade, and he has suffered bullying and ridicule from both teachers and students at Hanover Area the entire time he has attended the school, he said.
“I was very, very hurt,” said Swank. “I was upset by the fact that she was showing other students, because most of them are males and straight people don’t like to hear about gay people, so they’ll sit there and make fun of them,” he said.
He said the teacher should “absolutely not” have shown the video in class.
“She told me that she wanted to show her daughter, not the entire school,” Swank said in an interview at the NEPA Rainbow Alliance offices in Wilkes-Barre on Thursday afternoon.
And Swank said it’s not the first time he has been bullied at the school.
“I’ve been made fun of by teachers who have said things. It’s just an ongoing thing and I’d like to see other students not have to go through this. One of my friends got expelled not long ago for (his reaction to) being called gay. It’s just ridiculous that everybody has to go through this,” Swank said.
His mother, Dawn Mendygral, said that in one instance, a district employee asked Swank “if he had any rainbows in his backpack.” A rainbow is a symbol of the gay community.
In another episode, Swank was wearing pink eye shadow and his teacher went to the next classroom and invited students over “to show the students that he had pink eye.” In a third, a teacher threw a notebook at him to draw his attention and the wire cut her son’s finger.
She said football players pelted her son with lollypops at a parade, students threw stones at him in gym class and roughed him up a bit in the halls. She reported each incident and was told they would be addressed, but she was never told how.
Mendygral, 41, of Hanover Township, said that in the latest incident, the teacher asked Swank and his prom date, 16-year-old Selena Leyc, who attends Lake-Lehman School District, if she could take a short video of them dancing, using her iPhone, to show her daughter.
“Being out and proud, he thought the (video) would show her daughter who attended the high school prom and the diversity that exists in our community,” Mendygral said.
But Mendygral said she learned from students, staff and faculty at the school that the teacher not only showed the video to her daughter, but uploaded it to a school computer and played it for students in her science class.
“This caused my son to be ridiculed and humiliated at school. This created a threatening and unwelcoming environment, which I believe is a violation of the Pennsylvania Public School Code,” Mendygral said.
Rainbow Alliance enters
Mendygral, said she contacted high school Principal David Fisher, who told her he would look into the matter, on Monday. After not hearing back from him, she sought help on Thursday from the NEPA Rainbow Alliance – an advocacy group for the lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community.
Alliance Executive Director John Dawe said Fisher returned a call from his office within 20 minutes, but he said he was told the matter would have to be referred to the superintendent. He believes the only reason Fisher returned the call was because Mendygral went to the Alliance and was told the press would be informed of the issue.
Dawe said the school’s anti-bullying policy and state law related to bullying both have deficiencies because neither address teacher-on-student bullying, only student-on-student bullying.
Mendygral addressed the Hanover Area School Board at a regularly scheduled meeting on Thursday night and told the members about the video and that it was played for the teacher’s science class.
“I have a real problem with that,” Mendygral said. “What I’m asking is, what you’re going to do about this, what’s being done?”
Board President John Pericci said the board became aware of the situation Thursday and, in accordance with policy, the superintendent would conduct a thorough investigation, which would include interviewing all parties involved.
Mendygral said her son was at the meeting and willing to be interviewed then, but Pericci said that would not be necessary and suggested a meeting next week with Superintendent Anthony Podczasy.
“Due to the privacy rights of the parties involved, due to even the accused’s privacy rights, the investigation process is conducted internally,” said solicitor George Shovlin.
Shovlin said Principal David Fisher began an investigation on Tuesday and interviewed a student who allegedly made a negative statement about the video on Wednesday. Fisher wanted to interview Swank, but he left school early on Wednesday and wasn’t in school on Thursday, so he called the superintendent’s office to bring it to the next level.
During public comment, resident Deborah Scott told the school board she has a neighbor in ninth grade who is bullied every day.
“She went to teachers in Hanover and nothing was done. It’s a constant thing in this school district. This student is not an elite. The father is a very hard-working man. … It’s a thing that’s been going on even when my children were here,” Scott said.
District has system
Board member Frank Ciavarella said the school has an anti-bullying program, and notes were sent home with students’ report cards letting parents and students know there is a hotline for anonymous tips about bullying. There are also signs around the schools. “There are resources out there for these students,” he said.
But Scott said some teachers are told about bullying and do nothing.
“And this overflows outside the school. It’s at the bus stops, it’s coming and going, it’s where they socialize. … Every group has to fear because you have some people and family members in this district that think they’re the elite, think they’re beyond and think they’re better. … You people had better wake up,” she said.
After the meeting, Podczasy said the incident with Swank was the first he has ever heard of a teacher bullying a student in the school district.
Mendygral said the board needs to take action on this issue and the larger issue of bullying in the schools.
Swank and Mendygral say bullying has gone on too long at the school, fostering a culture of intolerance, and officials have failed to address it.
Linda Trompetter, of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Diversity Education Consortium, said she was shocked and appalled to hear of the teacher’s alleged behavior. She believes the teacher should be fired if the accusations are true and the school should bring in diversity instruction for students and teachers.
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Reprinted by permission.