PUBLIC MEETING: Summerville Union High School District Board of Education, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, school library, 17555 Tuolumne Road, Tuolumne.
A Summerville High School parent will address the school board Thursday on what he describes as “extremely severe” bullying that drove his son to the brink of suicide.
Sonora resident Al Dieste said his son, Beto Dieste, a Summerville High School freshman, has endured aggressive harassment on campus for several months and was the target of a “Hate Beto” club devoted to bullying him.
The alleged bullying took the form of crude language and sexually-explicit name calling, and has made Beto’s first semester at Summerville a “nightmare” and “living hell,” Dieste said.
He said at least six students participated in the bullying but that Beto has more recently been snubbed by more Summerville High students, including his baseball teammates. He plays on the junior varsity baseball team.
The alleged bullying culminated March 11 in Beto telling his mother, Summerville High Spanish teacher Amy Dieste, that he “hated his school” and life.
That afternoon, Beto said he was going for a jog but didn’t come home, according to Dieste.
The California Highway Patrol found him on the Highway 108 Mono Way overpass, Dieste said, “leaning over the railing, and looking down at the passing cars.”
Beto was placed on suicide watch at a youth hospital in Sacramento. He is now home but not speaking, Dieste said.
Beto’s parents and sister, Summerville High senior Isabel Dieste, had detailed the bullying at a school board meeting in December.
The family criticized the school’s administration for what they described as a delayed and inequitable response to the harassment.
Dieste said the school suspended Beto for punching one of his alleged bullies, later doubled the punishment and lifted the suspension of the other student.
District Superintendent John Keiter said after the December meeting that he couldn’t comment on student disciplinary issues but that the school takes bullying “very seriously.”
Dieste, a former Columbia Elementary School principal, filed a written complaint with the Summerville Board of Education on Beto’s behalf at the same meeting.
He wrote a second complaint in January, this time against Summerville High Principal David Johnstone. He called for his firing, claiming Johnstone failed to punish the bullies fairly.
On March 12, the day after Beto was found on the Mono Way overpass, Dieste filed a third complaint with the Summerville High school board.
That complaint names the “entire” Summerville High administration, including Keiter, and complained Keiter still hadn’t finished his investigation into his original December complaint about bullying.
Keiter has since responded with a 22-page memorandum. In it, he said he interviewed more than 40 students during the course of an investigation into the alleged bullying.
The letter upheld the actions of Summerville High staff, found Beto partially culpable for conflict between him and other students, and disputed the existence of a “Hate Beto” club. It also offered to arrange counseling for Beto at Summerville High’s expense.
“The Administration and I are ready to help Beto in whatever way that we … can,” Keiter wrote.
School board President Randy Richter said in a March 13 letter that trustees will decide how to investigate Dieste’s third complaint at the board’s Thursday meeting.
Also in attendance will be a group of Sonora High School leadership students who see Beto’s situation as an example of the bullying they’ve learned about in class, said Sonora High Senior Class President Alex Morehouse.
“It really hit home because we’ve learned so much about it,” Morehouse said.
“Seeing it happen in such a small community — that was kind of shocking to see it in such a close sense.”
Asked whether Beto will return to Summerville, Dieste said he wasn’t sure.
“As of right now, he doesn’t want to go to school at all,” Dieste said.