A former Kenosha Unified student is suing the district and five of its educators, alleging they were indifferent to his being bullied, harassed and physically attacked by students because he is gay.
Guadalupe Paredes alleges that these actions — which took place over several years — resulted in him dropping out of school three years ago.
Paredes filed suit on Friday in U.S. District Court alleging the harassment began in the third grade and escalated to physical violence and cyberbullying he endured as he continued through 10th grade, before eventually leaving school in 11th grade in 2015.
According to the suit, the hostile environment created and maintained by school officials led the former student to become physically ill and took a psychological toll on his mental health.
Kenosha Unified spokeswoman Tanya Ruder said Tuesday the district had informally received the complaint Monday night. She said the information has been shared with the district’s insurance company, which will be handling the defense.
“They are currently reviewing the document and looking into the allegations. No further comment will be provided on this pending litigation per their protocol,” she said.
In addition to the school district, the suit names educators Ron Sandoval, Scott Kennow, William Haithcock, David Naylor and Karen Wambold for their part in being “deliberately indifferent” in responding to his complaints of ongoing bullying and harassment because he is gay.
The suit claims the district violated provisions in Title IX and Paredes’ constitutional rights under the equal protection clause prohibiting discrimination based on sex, including sexual orientation. It asks for a jury trial and judgment for compensatory damages, attorney fees and other relief.
According to the suit, Paredes was harassed by multiple students when he attended Edward Bain School of Language and Art, with the students calling him anti-gay slurs. The complaints were made by his mother to Kennow and Sandoval, who were the principal and assistant principal of the school, respectively, at the time.
Paredes met with Sandoval, telling him that students called him the derogatory names while “shoving him or striking him,” the suit claims. At one point, Paredes told the assistant principal he wanted to stay inside during recess in order to avoid his harassers, but was told by Sandoval that everyone must go outside. He said he tried to explain how much he was hurting, but when he revealed he was attracted to boys, Sandoval became uncomfortable and later told Paredes to go back outside.
Sandoval did not indicate he would do anything to halt the harassment, according to the suit.
Paredes was later told to no longer consult with Sandoval directly, but rather with Kennow “because Sandoval did not feel comfortable with the Plaintiff’s kind,” according to the suit.
Made him feel ill
On many Sunday nights when he was in fourth grade, Paredes stated in court documents that he would feel sick and would vomit. He asked his mother to allow him to stay home from school.
In fifth grade, during another incident outside of the school, students had pushed him down and kicked him repeatedly while he was curled up on the ground. His mother then met with Kennow, who prescribed a route to minimize contact with harassers.
His mother was also given the option to remove her son from school before dismissal time if that solution did not work.
The harassment continued, however. Paredes said that, after he learned the principal would not do anything to stop the perpetrators, he hid from them and no longer went to Kennow for help. He skipped classes where he was being harassed or hid within the school to avoid them.
While attending Paideia Academy the next year, most of the same students who bullied him were also there. One student, described as “the worst perpetrator” of the harassers, cornered Paredes in a school restroom, telling him he should kill himself because he is gay.
Social media harassment
Paredes alleged he was also harassed on social media by a student who told him to kill himself. Paredes’ mother brought the Facebook incidents to the Paideia principal, who, according to the suit, apparently “did something” because he experienced less harassment. That principal was not named in the suit.
During his seventh-grade year, however, Paredes received another Facebook message from a student harassing him and telling him he should kill himself because the “world would be better off without him,” the suit alleges. Students again cornered him in the school restroom. He said the ongoing harassment made him feel hopeless, and he stopped caring about himself or his appearance.
According to the suit, the harassment continued into Paredes’ eighth-grade year at Harborside, with the worst of the harassers having a similar class schedule with him. Paredes’ mother spoke with Harborside’s David Naylor, a dean, several times about the harassment.
During one conversation, however, the suit alleges Naylor told the mother her son brought the harassment upon himself because he acted gay and told other students he was gay.
Paredes’ parents met with Harborside Principal William Haithcock and Karen Wambold, another dean, about their son’s harassment, including yet another electronic message by the same student calling Paredes an anti-gay slur and telling him to kill himself. According to the suit, the administrators’ response was to assign both to work on a poster project together or face a three-day suspension. Paredes opted for the suspension.
Kept transferring schools
He later transferred from Harborside to Reuther High School, but because the schools are in the same building, he continued to encounter the same students who had bullied and harassed him. Paredes alleged students spread a rumor that Harborside administrators kicked him out of the school because he was gay.
According to the suit, none of the administrators kept records of an investigation into any of the complaints made by Paredes. Paredes said he also stopped complaining to administrators after transferring to Reuther because he believed it was “hopeless.”
By 10th grade, while he had passed his first quarter classes, his academic performance declined, and he failed to complete or receive credit in several of them. The school conducted an intervention that resulted in a plan to address the academic issues, but shortly afterward, he was hospitalized for inpatient psychiatric treatment.
According to the suit, Paredes attempted to make a fresh start by transferring to Tremper High School, but dropped out before the end of the first semester of 11th grade, completing about half of the credits to graduate.
He never returned to school.