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Schools add bullying outreach

Posted: November 14, 2008 9:51 p.m.
Updated: November 15, 2008 4:59 a.m.
 
The Acton-Agua Dulce school officials adopted parts of an anti-bullying program in the wake of a community-shaking student suicide at Vasquez High School.

Jeff Lasater, the father of Jeremiah Lasater, a 14-year-old freshman at Vasquez High School who killed himself in a school bathroom Oct. 20, founded Project 51, a bullying prevention program that is his personal brainchild.

Teasing may have provoked the suicide, according to school employees.

The Acton-Agua Dulce Unified School District Board reached a consensus Thursday night to adopt the bullying outreach portions of Project 51, including the planned hotlines for students and parents.

The school board balked at the discipline portion of the plan that calls for long-term suspension for a single offense and expulsion for repeat offenses.

"This is not congruent with school policy," said Mark Distaso, school board president.

He warned that expelling students for bullying may not align with state laws either.

"We may be prevented from doing this because of the California School Code," he said.

Lasater told the board Project 51 is flexible and emphasized the larger issue of reaching out to students and getting the program rolling.

"We've received 20 calls by parents complaining about different school districts," Lasater told the board.

Those calls were made to his personal phone number.

"Parents at this point are fed up. They feel like the administration is letting them down," he said.

Lasater's words echoed through the multi-purpose room at Meadowlark Elementary in Acton. The words moved James Brousseau, but he said there are other issues surrounding the Jeremiah Lasater incident that need to be resolved.

"Why did this kid have a loaded weapon on campus? It's a crime for any adult to allow a child access to a gun," Brousseau said.

He complimented Project 51 and at the same time questioned whether Jeremiah Lasater belonged at Vasquez High.

"We are in a situation where we make society mainstream all of its mentally ill," he said.

Brousseau continued to rail against the school district's judgement questioning whether Jeremiah Lasater had attempted suicide before or was under psychiatric care.

"There's a difference between special needs and emotionally disturbed," he said.

Lasater didn't flinch while Brousseau made his comments.

"It took all my strength just to sit there and listen to him. I was so angry it was unreal," he said.

Lasater said none of Brousseau's comments will bring his son back or help save another life.

"That's the point of Project 51," he said.

Jeremiah Lasater was not under psychiatric care, Lasater said.

"My son belonged in school like everyone else," he said.

Lasater hopes the steam Project 51 gained Thursday will carry over to the Dec. 11 meeting when the board will decide whether it will wrap an existing peer-mentoring program into Project 51 or use the program described in the project, he said.

The board also must decide on the discipline portion of the program, Distaso added.

The Project 51 Hotline is (866) 721-7385

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