When students at Melcher-Dallas school posted a video of 13-year old Levi Null having involuntary movements related to Asperger’s syndrome, his mother immediately complained about bullying.
After all, according to state law, “’Harassment’ and ‘bullying’ shall be construed to mean any electronic, written, verbal, or physical act or conduct toward a student which is based on any actual or perceived trait or characteristic of the student and which creates an objectively hostile school environment.”
Levi and his mother both say the teen was afraid to go back to school after the video was posted. But high school Principal Josh Ehn wrote in an email to Levi’s mother, the “video posted online was found not to be bullying.”
The head of the Melcher-Dallas school board stands by that.
“I stand by our principal,” Bob Lepley said. “According to his investigation I’ll have to stand by him.”
But the American Civil Liberties Union disagrees. They say this is a classic case of bullying.
“The fact that his mother is afraid to send him to school, this has got to be having an effect on his education,” ACLU Legal Director Randall Wilson says.
But because the school refuses to categorize it as bullying, the principal doesn’t have to report it to the State Department of Education.
There are also no repercussions from the state for not reporting it.
The ACLU says the Department of Education is not doing a good job of showing teachers and administrators what bullying is.
“We have a law that you shall not bully students and we have a legal definition. But really we haven’t put any resources into helping schools understand what should constitute bullying and where the line should be drawn,” Wilson says.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Education argues teachers and administrators across the state engage in ongoing training that covers bullying.
A couple of weeks ago, Governor Branstad held a summit on bullying. But Thursday a spokesman for the governor tells us that this is a local issue, and Levi’s family will have to handle it locally.
The ACLU says this is a huge problem, especially when the Melcher-Dallas schools refuse to even acknowledge that this is a problem.
“The first step is to recognize that there is a bullying problem and that’s what worries me here,” Wilson adds.
Since the original story and the follow-up story of the community’s reaction, the issue has gone national.
Yahoo News, Huffington Post, Gawker, Fox News and The Daily Mail have all covered it generating over 10,000 comments from across the world, most support Levi and his mother.
Levi’s mom says she’s overwhelmed by the support.
The superintendent at Melcher-Dallas has not responded to our requests to an interview.