Brenna Swift, The Union Democrat

A months-long discussion about alleged bullying at Summerville High School carried into a board meeting Wednesday, with parents urging trustees to continue addressing the issue.

The debate on bullying came to a head at a contentious Summerville Union High School District board meeting April 10. At that time, parents argued about the truthfulness of Sonora resident Al Dieste's claims that his son had been harassed to the brink of suicide.

The mood was calmer at Wednesday's meeting, which was attended by about 40 staff members, parents and students.

Parent and Curtis Creek Elementary School Trustee Joe Sveum said the board should seize the opportunity for improvement.

"Pointing fingers and blaming who and blaming this - that's in the past," Sveum said. "… We've got to instill in our kids a sense of compassion rather than seeing who can come up with some slur."

Parent Anne Jacobs cautioned against labeling students as bullies and victims.

"When we use the word 'bully,' we're setting our kids up to think one guy's the bad guy and one guy's the good guy, when we really should talk about how we should resolve conflict," Jacobs said.

And one parent, Anita Rich, said she felt adults had played the part of bullies at the April 10 meeting.

Some said at that time that Dieste's claims were "false" and were damaging the community, while other parents and students expressed concern for Dieste's son.

The conversation occasionally broke down into arguments and protest about the district's rules for public comment. Rich said she overheard an adult tell a high school student to "shut up" and leave.

"These are the communication skills we're giving our children," Rich said.

Neither Dieste nor his family members spoke during Wednesday's meeting.

When Summerville High Superintendent John Keiter investigated his complaints and found Dieste's son partially responsible for the conflict, Dieste appealed his report to the school board.

Trustees finished their discussion of the appeal behind closed doors Wednesday and approved a response to Dieste.

Board President Randy Richter declined to elaborate on the response after the meeting because the Diestes hadn't seen the document yet.

Summerville High officials and teachers spoke Wednesday about efforts to combat bullying on campus, though some students have said they don't feel bullying is prevalent there.

Keiter presented the board with a new "standalone" policy on bullying to complement the district's existing rules.

The proposed policy defines types of bullying and would even require the district to investigate bullying that occurs off campus if it affects a student's school performance.

In addition to a new anti-bullying program, the district also runs an anonymous tip line for reporting crime or harassment on campus, Keiter said.

Later at Wednesday's meeting, trustees heard complaints by Cold Springs High School teacher Dae Dyer that the school's water wasn't drinkable.

Cold Springs High School is a "necessary small school" within Summerville Union High School District, located on Long Barn Road in the same building as the alternative Long Barn High School. "Necessary small schools" serve students who live in remote areas.

Dyer held up a bottle of water from the building and offered some to board members. The fluid was light yellow in color, with floating particles visible inside.

Though the water has been tested and is safe by state standards, students refuse to use it even for hand-washing, Dyer said. Instead, they rely on hand sanitizer.

Trustee Dennis Spisak said he would work with Tuolumne County government, which owns the Cold Springs and Long Barn building, to find a solution.

Board members also heard proposals Wednesday for two new courses: a journalism class that would be taught by Brianna Willis and eventually revive the school newspaper, plus a geometry and engineering course to be taught by Richard Krueger.

Both classes still require board approval.