By Ryan Richardson
CARL JUNCTION, Mo. —
After her 14-year-old son took his own life, Jessica Nugent wanted to do anything she could to keep such a tragedy from befalling other families.
Nugent said her son, Luke, had suffered through incidents of bullying in the past, and she believes that it led to his decision to commit suicide.
On Monday night, she asked the Carl Junction Board of Education to evaluate the school district’s policies on bullying to see whether more could be done by school officials and the community.
Joplin lawyer Tracey Martin addressed the board on behalf of the family. Martin said the district’s policies need to be updated and enforced to prevent another “tragic situation.”
“The school has a responsibility, as does the community,” Martin said. “We don’t want our community to be known for bullying. We want to be known as the community that stopped it.
“We need to involve the whole community.”
Rob Herron, school board president, said the board would work with “any available resource” it has.
“There will not be an obstacle in accomplishing this,” Herron said.
Nugent, accompanied by her husband, Mika, at the meeting, said Luke was an intelligent, humorous teenager who excelled at science and “studied everything he could get his hands on.” She said she had been contacted in the past month by many residents who have expressed concerns about bullying.
“People don’t just care about my son,” she said. “They care about the kids in the community. Now we’re going to step in and take some action to prevent this from ever happening to another family.”
After Luke’s suicide on March 16, several memorial pages were set up on Facebook and other websites. Jessica Nugent is the administrator of the “Luke Nugent Memorial” page on Facebook, which has collected 1,136 followers since going live on April 10. Several of her son’s supporters showed up at the board meeting sporting his trademark fedora. The fedora has become a symbol of anti-bullying in the school district.
“It is empowering to see it become a symbol of what good can come out of this,” Jessica Nugent said. “It was one of the things he was bullied for. They took it from him, ridiculed him for it because it was different. To see so many people wearing it now in a positive way is warming to us.”
Superintendent Phil Cook said in an interview Monday that there was a “concern” that school district officials investigated involving an allegation of bullying in Nugent’s case, but he said he could not elaborate.
Cook said the district is still evaluating the circumstances, though he does believe that more can be done to address bullying in the district.
“Do I believe Carl Junction schools have an issue?” Cook said. “Yes, but so does every other school in the nation. There is always more that can be done, and it is something we need to have more discussions on.”
The school district has an anti-bullying and anti-hazing policy in place. The policy states that “students participating in or encouraging inappropriate conduct will be disciplined,” which may include “suspension or expulsion from school.” The policy states that staff members must report incidents to the building principal. Staff members who violate the policy are also subject to discipline or firing.
The policy also includes provisions against cyberbullying and cyberthreats. The policy was adopted in 2004 and updated in 2007.
TRACEY MARTIN, a Joplin lawyer, said any liability issues between the school district and the family would be settled in private.