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Spencer Rice bullying

Kristy Rice puts her hand on her son Spencer's back while the two talk during an interview Feb. 6, 2018. Rice, who is autistic, stopped going to North High School in January because his mother, Kristi Rice, claims school officials hasn't done enough after a cyber bullying incident the previous month. With fall classes starting in three weeks, Spencer still doesn't know where he will be spending his junior year. 

SIOUX CITY -- Classes for the Sioux City public schools begin in three weeks, but Spencer Rice still doesn't know where he'll spend his junior year of high school.

Rice, who is autistic, stopped going to North High School in January because his mother, Kristi Rice, claims school officials didn't do enough after a cyber bullying incident the previous month to adequately protect him. 

The family instead chose to have Spencer, a special education student, not complete the homework the school sent home to him. That affected his spring semester report card.

"The district decided to give him all Fs after refusing our requests," Kristi Rice said Thursday.

Kristi Rice said she's frustrated that school officials haven't accepted one of her three offers -- that Spencer be home-schooled, take North courses online through the Edgenuity programs, or transfer to another in-district high school with safety assurances.

After battling for months with administrators and teachers, Rice said she hopes to hear from school officials soon. She said her son, who plays the trumpet, is disgruntled in having missed the start of marching band camp earlier this month.

In February, Rice told the Journal she feared her son would have a "lost semester." Now, she says that's what happened.

North High officials sent home backlogged coursework in February. Kristi Rice called that an unhelpful step, since there was no instructor to flesh out the lesson plans. She said that was the only time coursework was provided, and as the semester went on, Spencer stayed home, because he was fearful of the North High environment.

In the cyber bullying incident in December, Kristi Rice said one of the first responses in the online poll questioned the manner in which Spencer should die. At least one unidentified respondent said he should kill himself, according to those familiar with the poll.

It's unclear if the author of the online poll or the participants were identified or if the school district took any disciplinary action. 

After students returned from the holiday break in January, Kristi Rice said her son was aggressively threatened as he moved from the bus to the school cafeteria, "but thankfully another student got between them."

Rice said the district in February approved a requested transfer to West High, but the family declined that, as they also wanted a new teacher's aide and also assurances of a safe and timely bus ride. She cited failed attempts since Jan. 8 to set up a safety plan for him.

"The semester could have gone better had the district timely done any of several things including home school, Edgenuity, appropriate transfer with necessary IEP (individualized education program) change, or followed existing policies and student codes, and appropriately dealt with the bullies," she aid.

She shared emails containing her written requests for those items, plus district responses.

Mandie Mayo, a school district spokeswoman, confirmed Spencer is enrolled as a student for 2018-19, but said federal and state laws designed to protect student privacy prevent the district from disclosing information about the education record of individual students.

"District leaders are solution-oriented and always look for scenarios that will best accommodate each student’s individual needs... When it comes to a child’s education, everything is a team decision and families are included in the team to help determine the appropriate education supports for their children," Mayo said.

As an example, Mayo said, when a situation is presented that requires district officials to develop individualized transportation arrangements, families are usually given several options. Individualized transportation routes can be developed using district transportation or by approved contracted outside services.

"Families may also provide their own transportation and instead collect mileage reimbursement from the district," Mayo said, as allowed by Iowa Department of Education regulations.

Rice pointed to how there has been a outpouring of support for her family, as others shared their bullying experiences in the Sioux City district, where officials say they have vigorously worked to prevent such incidents.

Bullying in the district received national attention after the release of a 2011 film, "Bully," which featured an East Middle School student being tormented by peers.

Superintendent Paul Gausman has repeatedly said the district is highly transparent and has lots of anti-bullying programming for all grade levels.

Kristi Rice argues some of that rings hollow, so she is working with other parents to piggyback off a bullying conference featuring Jim Tillman at Briar Cliff University.

"The good news is a coalition has been started. We are working to bring in a nationally known presenter in the early fall," Rice said. "We, the parents and community, can and will no longer wait for our school district to make kids' lives a priority."

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