Bullied son gets suspension cut short, returns to school
IF YOU GO
• WHAT: Bullying Awareness Community Meeting
• WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday
• WHERE: Victoria Mall Community Room (across from Chick-fil-A)
He grabbed his son's spirit shirt before heading out the door.
Randy Duke found it difficult not to speed on his way to pick up his 14-year-old son Max Friday from the Mitchell Guidance Center.
"I didn't speed," Duke said. "But I was eager to see his face when he found out he was performing that night."
Earlier this month, the father had spent three days outside Cade Middle School protesting his son's monthlong sentence to the center.
The father said his son was wrongfully punished after choosing to fight back against a longtime bully after being provoked in class.
That same week, Duke had returned from a year in Afghanistan training police officers.
His protest came to a halt on Tuesday, the day before Duke and his wife were scheduled to meet with the Victoria school district's superintendent Robert Jaklich.
Two days after their meeting with Jaklich, Duke's wife got a phone call from the superintendent saying Max could return to the middle school that afternoon.
An immediate return meant the eighth-grader would be performing at the Victoria West vs. Victoria East high school football game with the Warrior school band.
At the start of the school year, Max was one of the middle-schoolers picked to play with the upperclassmen.
"I was not able to fight back the tears," the father said, recalling watching Max from the stands. "I was crying with joy watching my son perform."
Before the happy news reached the Dukes, the father had organized a public meeting addressing the school district's handling of bullying situations.
The meeting is still on.
"Now, my goal is to solidify the relationship between the community," Duke said. "It's going to be a 'we' meeting, not a 'them' against 'us' meeting."
When the father's story was reported by the Advocate two weeks ago, his public protest caught national attention from Yahoo! News, the Huffington Post and the New York Daily News.
"We do feel horrible about the attention we've caused the school district," Duke said. "But we need to build bridges now."
VISD spokeswoman Diane Boyett confirmed Monday that Max had returned to the middle school.
"When a student faces a disciplinary placement, a conference is held with the parents that spells out the duration and conditions of a consequence," Boyett said.
The spokeswoman said the district could not comment further on the matter because of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
After Duke brought Max to the band hall Friday, the father said his son's return was met with screams of excitement from fellow classmates.
"It was overwhelming for me to watch," Duke said. "He was basically mugged."