A Summerville High School student and his family made an impassioned plea for an end to bullying at a district board meeting Wednesday, claiming he's been a target of hate speech.
Beto Dieste, the son of Summerville High Spanish teacher Amy Dieste and former Columbia Elementary School principal Al Dieste, told the Board of Education he has been harassed by members of a campus club dubbed the "Hate Beto" club.
Beto Dieste said the bullying started in August. He said the "Hate Beto" club's alleged participants call him by a variety of obscene and derogatory names "just about every day."
"I've seen some of these members of the club during class make hand gestures of how they want to beat me up and … choke me," he said. "It just so happened that they were doing it in my mom's Spanish class."
Beto Dieste said he "confronted" one of the alleged bullies, which his father claims resulted in his suspension from school for two days while the other student stayed in school and played in a weekend basketball tournament.
Beto's sister, Summerville High student Isabel Dieste, said through tears that he'd return home from school every day with a "broken spirit and a broken heart." She also said there had been no consequence for the alleged bullying.
Amy Dieste said bullying is pervasive at the school because it's gone unchecked by the administration.
"If there's one (student), I know … there are many, many more," she said.
The Diestes also referenced complaints made by another Summerville High parent in January involving racial slurs directed at her daughter.
Adding to the complexity of Wednesday's discussion, Summerville High parent Julie Elkins said her son was being unfairly accused of bullying by Beto Dieste and that the "Hate Beto" club didn't exist to her knowledge.
"Our family is being victimized here also," Elkins said. "I agree wholeheartedly (that) something should be done."
Board members accepted a written complaint from Al Dieste but, in accordance with meeting policies, didn't comment on the issue Wednesday.
Summerville Union High School Superintendent John Keiter couldn't discuss suspensions or disciplinary actions brought against particular students, though he said after the meeting that the school takes bullying "very seriously."
"The school doesn't tolerate hate speech," Keiter said. "I'm not aware of any staff member who would let it go on."
California education code addresses the issue of hate speech but does not require suspension as discipline, Keiter said.
He said suspendable offenses "may also be dealt with in other ways," including efforts to educate about bullying.
Funded by a grant from the Sonora Area Foundation, seven Summerville High teachers participated in a November "Character Counts"training session. The program focuses on values such as respect, fairness and caring.
Grade-level coordinator Mitch Heldstab expressed hope Wednesday that the schoolwide implementation of "Character Counts" would reduce conflict between students, a sentiment echoed by resource teacher Deena Koral-Soto.
"I've watched the bullying and I've watched what's gone on, and we need to do something," Koral-Soto said.
In other news, Wednesday's board meeting was the first for new Summerville High board member Carrie Ashe. Ashe, a Forest Service archaeologist, captured more votes than former trustee David Marquez in the Nov. 6 general election.