Natrona School District Trustees Call Torture Incident ‘Embarrassment,’ ‘Mistake’
Some Natrona County School District board trustees on Monday called it "an embarrassment" and "a mistake" when members of the Kelly Walsh High School wrestling team waterboarded a teammate.
Several people repudiated those descriptions.
"It's torture," said Shayne Kost, a parent of a student.
"This is not an embarrassment, this is not bullying; this is torture," Kost said. "Diminutive language needs to stop being used like 'hazing,' 'bullying' to protect boys from the violent actions they commit."
Kost and others who spoke at the board meeting, held at Natrona County High School after a dedication of the multi-million-dollar renovation, denounced the trustees unwillingness to condemn the waterboarding incident reported by the Casper Star-Tribune last week.
The Star-Tribune reported that on Jan. 3, the victim was at a practice, was being teased, and an older wrestler gathered some teammates to wait for him in the locker room. The victim didn't want to enter the locker room, and one of his friends agreed to go in and retrieve his belongings. The upperclassmen refused to let him get the belongings and told him they would hurt him, according to the Star-Tribune.
The victim walked into the room, he was grabbed by at least three wrestlers, he tried to escape, and he was was thrown on a bench and had a towel put over his head. One teammate said, "‘Let’s piss in his mouth,'" according to the Star-Tribune.
The victim struggled harder, the towel fell off, and the attackers put it back over his face and began pouring water over the victim’s mouth and nose, according to the Star-Tribune.
The school district earlier issued a statement calling the incident "extreme bullying."
The police department has concluded that a crime had occurred.
Monday, Kelly Walsh senior Dylan Thompson said the United Nations and many human rights organization regard waterboarding as a form of torture.
The perpetrators should be tried in court, Thompson said. "They should be facing expulsion at Kelly Walsh High School."
The school board hasn't adequately addressed this incident and bullying in general, he added.
The meeting started at 7 p.m., but school district employees and the district's website said the meeting was scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m. As a result, some people who wanted to speak arrived as the trustees were finishing their business.
Board Chairwoman Rita Walsh allowed those who arrived at the announced time to comment.
A parent asked the trustees, "Where do you administrators draw the line between 'extreme bullying' and torture?"
After the public comments, the trustees said they appreciated the opportunity to meet at the renovated Natrona County High School, and praised a new report about improving graduation rates in the district.
Some also commented on the torture incident.
Clark Jensen said the trustees didn't want to give the impression they are trying to sweep the incident under the rug, but they oversee a school system and do not act as a law enforcement agency.
Bad things will happen, but the school district's leadership is doing the best it can, Jensen said.
"This is an embarrassment about what happened at Kelly Walsh, but let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater," he said. "I hear you, but keep perspective."
Dana Howie said there's much more behind the scenes to the incident than what has been made public. Trustees legally cannot comment on anything more than what has already been said.
Ray Catellier said the trustees seriously listen to the comments about the torture incident.
"It's embarrassing for us as well," Catellier said.
But too much information can be a bad thing, he said.
"There's more harm in knowing, sometimes, or releasing information than a lack of knowledge by the public," Catellier said. "That's not an answer anybody wants to hear. The information that's already been released has already affected people's lives in a negative way. That's a major reason why we don't give you all the details."
Kevin Christopherson said bullying happens in schools and among adults, to which an audience member shouted, "It's torture."
Christopherson himself has kids on sports teams, and this incident has affected them, he said.
"Please, let's keep it civil, and realize people do make mistakes, and I just hope that we can all move on from this."
The Casper Police Department said in a news release Monday evening that individuals and staff of the Kelly Walsh High School wrestling team have been receiving unwarranted threats.
All Natrona County School District employees, students, and parents who were involved in the recently investigated incident at Kelly Walsh High School have fully cooperated in the investigation, according to the news release.
"Please have patience in the process as we work together as a community to resolve this situation. The case has been filed and is pending the review of the Natrona County District Attorney’s Office," according to the news release.