The ACLU of Kansas has requested that a school district “take action… to avoid prolonged litigation” following an internal investigation that found two employees of the district had violated internal policy and federal law when they suspended an eighth grade student, who was overheard simply saying, “I’m a lesbian.”
Izzy Dieker was on the school bus on her way to school in January when her bus driver heard her make the remark casually to another student. For that, she earned a referral from the bus driver and was banned from riding the bus by the principal, citing her “inappropriate language.”
An internal investigation by the Kansas Association of School Boards has already found Kristi Gadino, the bus driver, and Corey Wiltz, the principal of North Lyon County Elementary School, guilty of sexual harassment against Dieker. By suspending her solely for saying her identity, the two employees were in violation of both district policy and federal Title IX regulations.
This week, the ACLU of Kansas sent notice to the North Lyon County school district, USD 251, requesting that they take further action.
While the two employees did receive punishment as recommended by the internal investigation, the ACLU said that they need to do more if they wish to prevent this from happening again — and if they want to avoid a lawsuit.
When the incident occurred on January 27, Gadino reprimanded Dieker and made her move to the front of the bus. Then, based on a report from Gadino, Wiltz then banned Dieker from the bus, citing her “inappropriate language” and claimed she refused to comply with Gadino’s request to move.
As it turned out, Dieker did comply.
Angela Stallbaumer, an attorney for the school board association, wrote in her report of the investigation that a video from the incident not only showed that Dieker did move to the front of the bus when asked.
Gadino had also ignored the fact that other students were using “shockingly profane” curse words. Gadino focused only on the fact that Dieker said lesbian. She then misreported that Dieker refused to move, and also said in her report that Dieker had said, “I’m a fucking lesbian.” The footage showed Dieker did not use the profanity.
Gadino is heard on the video insisting to Dieker that the younger students at the front of the bus should not know what the word lesbian means.
Principal Wiltz apparently did not even watch the video before siding with Gadino and banning Dieker from the bus. He reinstated her bus privileges after he saw it, but he also admitted to previously telling Dieker’s father, Daniel, that her use of the word lesbian was not appropriate.
The internal investigation was also appealed, although it was ultimately upheld.
“The ACLU of Kansas has sent a letter… notifying officials there that a principal and bus driver likely violated Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and a student’s Constitutional rights on a school bus,” the organization said in a statement.
“The July 6 letter, addressed to Superintendent Robert Blair, detailed the January incident… in which Principal Corey Wiltz and bus driver Kristi Gadino discriminated against our 14-year-old client, Izzy Dieker, because she is a lesbian.”
They add that the actions taken by Wiltz and Gadino could amount to violating Dieker’s First Amendment rights to free speech. They cite the internal investigation’s findings, and add that they learned that a teacher had went to Wiltz with Dieker after she was banned from the bus.
The teacher asked, “If she had said, ‘I’m straight,’ would we be here?”
Wiltz responded, “No, because it’s not inappropriate.”
Sharon Brett, ACLU of Kansas Legal Director, said in the statement, “We urge USD 251 to take action in light of these findings to avoid prolonged litigation. USD 251 must rectify the wrongs Izzy experienced and ensure that its policies, practices, and training will protect all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and gender nonconforming students in USD 251 from discrimination and harassment.
“Izzy and all students like her, deserve better.”
Dieker, who was 13 at the time of the incident, finished the year riding with a different driver, but her father said that Dieker and her sibling will be switching schools next year because “the district has lost all our faith.”
The incident was not investigated until Dieker and her family reported it to local media, when it was first covered in February.
“It made me upset to think that people go through this every day and also that kids are growing up thinking that it’s a horrible thing and they shouldn’t be talking about it at all,” Dieker said at the time, “when honestly it should be the other way around.”