Student Must Pay
For Frances Cook, a high school Spanish teacher in Campbell County, Ky., the 1993-94 school year was a nightmare, thanks to a student named Andy Bray. According to Cook, Bray, then a junior, made frequent references to murder during class and doodled drawings of women with daggers slashing through their bodies.
The last straw came at the beginning of the 1994-95 academic year. Though no longer in Cook's class, Bray wrote a note urging his "disciples'' to continue a campaign of disruption that would drive her "over the edge.'' Scared and feeling abandoned by her district, Cook took her complaints to the courts.
In August, a Campbell County jury ordered Bray, now 18, to pay Cook $8,700 for emotional distress and medical costs and $25,000 in punitive damages for his "oppressive'' and "malicious'' conduct.
By pressing the case against Bray, Cook joined a growing number of teachers who are turning to the courts for greater protection from student threats and violence. [See "Fighting Back,'' September.] She believes the outcome of her case sends a strong message that students must take greater responsibility for classroom misbehavior. "I don't want anyone to have to endure what I endured the past two years,'' says Cook, who retired from Campbell County High School this year because of the stress from her ordeal.
Cook alleges that during the 1993-94 school year, Bray made several references to killing her. Among other things, her lawsuit claims, Bray frequently yelled out "matar,'' the Spanish word for murder, during her class. By August of 1994, Cook was relieved that she would no longer have Bray in her classroom, but then she discovered his note urging students to continue the disruption. She filed the lawsuit after an assistant principal at her school gave Bray only a 40-minute detention for the note.
Ross Julson, superintendent of the Campbell County schools, says the district at the time was reluctant to remove disruptive students from class but has since adopted a more aggressive approach. Once district officials learned about the note, he says, Bray was suspended. He eventually withdrew from school and finished his studies at home.
After a four-day trial, jurors ruled in Cook's favor, although the $34,000 award was much less than the several million she had sought.
Tim Nolan, Bray's lawyer, says his client meant no harm and has denied threatening Cook. During the trial, two other teachers at the school testified on Bray's behalf, saying that he was a smart student and had not been a disciplinary problem. Bray, Noland says, "was guilty of clowning and disruptive behavior, but I guess the jury got mixed up and thought they should rule for the plaintiff. Maybe the jury felt they were striking some blow for teachers in general, but this case has gone beyond the facts.''
Bray, Noland says, is considering an appeal.