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Terry School District target of student discrimination complaint

2013-05-09T10:18:00Z 2013-05-09T10:20:18Z Terry School District target of student discrimination complaintBy Rob Rogers Billings Gazette Helena Independent Record
May 09, 2013 10:18 am  • 

BILLINGS — The Montana Human Rights Bureau in a letter last month said it has found "reasonable cause to believe unlawful discrimination occurred" against a student at Terry High School.

Shawn Springer filed a complaint with the Human Rights Bureau last fall, saying her son had been the subject of religious discrimination by students and that administrators did nothing to stop it.

Her son, DuWayne Springer, and his family are Messianic Jews, a religious movement that combines elements of evangelical Christianity with traditional Judaism.

Shawn Springer wrote in her complaint that during her son's junior year, classmates called him "Jew boy," referred to a Star of David tattoo on his shoulder as a "Jew star" and that during the first week of school his senior year, a classmate called him a "kike" in English class.

Shawn Springer's grandmother is a Holocaust survivor.

She wrote in the complaint that teachers heard the teasing, that it was reported to administrators and they did nothing to address it.

The Springer family has since moved to Wisconsin after they said their car and mobile home were vandalized with spray-painted slurs and a swastika in September.

The Terry School District has rejected the findings of the investigation, which means the state will hold a hearing later this year to make a ruling on whether any discrimination occurred. If the district loses, it could be forced to pay compensatory damages to the Springer family.

Terry officials feel blindsided by the allegations. DuWayne's Springer's father was often in the school office to discuss disciplinary matters regarding DuWayne and made no mention of the alleged harassment, they say. DuWayne's older sister, Samantha Springer, was the school's valedictorian the year before.

"Not once did they ever bring up any of this," said Casey Klasna, the superintendent. "I pride myself on the rapport I've developed with my students."

The investigative report leans heavily on testimony Samantha Springer gave. She told investigators that she had complained to Klasna twice about hearing "pejorative comments" about her religion while she was a student.

"I stopped going to him (Klasna) because nothing was done," she told investigators.

Klasna denies that Samantha Springer ever talked to him about the comments, and he expressed frustration that the the investigator never followed up with him.

"We didn't have a chance to respond to her," said Jeff Weldon, the district's lawyer.

He disputes the report, saying it doesn't come to "factual conclusions."

For example, Samantha Springer's experience at the school was not part of Shawn Springer's complaint, yet the investigative report bases many of its findings on her testimony.

He also points to the allegation that DuWayne Springer had been cut as the starting kicker for the school's football team at the start of the season as retaliation for the complaint.

The team has no designated starting kicker, and the team had played three games before the district learned that a complaint had been filed, said board Chairman Brian Morast.

There's also the issue that the Springers' religion was largely unknown among the school and community, Morast said.

"We have not found one person in the school system ... that knew anything about them being Jewish," he said.

But in the investigator's report, English teacher Paula Rein said she knew of the kids' religious background.

"She said she was aware of the Springer's heritage because she taught Shawn Springer's daughter for three years and the daughter once made a presentation about Jewish people," the report states.

Rein also stated in the report that the term "kike" was never used as an epithet by a student, but rather it came up in a question when the student asked her what it meant.

A date for the hearing has not yet been set. Shawn Springer declined to comment on the investigation and its findings on the advice of her lawyer.

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