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Owasso schools failed to protect Nex Benedict, say speakers at board meeting

Madison Hutton
Screen shot via Owasso School Board YouTube

Madison Hutton addresses the school board meeting

The school board came in for a torrent of criticism at its first meeting since the trans student's death.

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Several parents and other members of the public expressed anger and sorrow over transgender teen Nex Benedict’s death at the first Owasso School Board meeting since the tragedy.

Benedict, a 16-year-old sophomore at Owasso High School in Oklahoma, died February 8, one day after being involved in a fight in a school restroom with three older students. Police have released preliminary findings saying Benedict’s death was not due to trauma, but full results from an autopsy are yet to come. Benedict had often been bullied at school.

“Apparently people don’t feel safe here. I can’t imagine why at all,” Walter Masterson, the first public commenter, said at the meeting. “A more woke school board would see the death of a child and work to make sure it never happens again. Not this board.” He said that in committing to protect all children, the board means some children and not others.

He outlined what he believes to be the board’s opinion: “We want to let kids be kids, and there’s nothing more unnatural than a teenager experimenting with their identity. It’s never happened before and should be punished. We’re the good guys. We’ll spit on a kid’s grave, blame the parents, and tell the kids to hit them harder.”

“When we heard that a trans child had been beaten to death, our state senator, Tom Woods, immediately released a statement: ‘We don’t want that filth in Oklahoma,’” Masterson continued. “We can call children ‘filth,’ even the dead ones, because we’re the good guys. And if we’re wrong, if God doesn’t want us driving off the lepers and deviants and worshipping the bankers, if our God doesn’t want us casting the first stone, if our God doesn’t want us loving people despite their differences, if we’re wrong, I guess I’ll see you all in hell.”

Madison Hutton, a 2019 Owasso High School graduate and member of the LGBTQ+ community, addressed the board later, saying, “The recent tragedy that has befallen our community and school has shaken us to our core. The brutal assault on Nex Benedict on our school premises and subsequent lack of adequate response is a stain on our conscience that cannot be ignored.”

“Nex’s story is not isolated,” she went on. “Many of us, especially those of the LGBTQ community, have come forward with their own disturbing stories about their experiences with school officials since Nex’s passing.”

There is “a problem of systemic bullying, discrimination, and lack of accountability” in the Owasso schools, which have “a culture of cruelty,” Hutton said; both students and teachers have unwritten permission to engage in bullying without repercussions. School officials, she said, have engaged in victim-blaming. The reaction to bullying is often to ask the victim why they didn’t fight back, then criticize them when they do fight back.

She is petitioning the school district to take action against bullying and create a memorial to Benedict — and to create a welcoming environment for all students.

Board of Education Meeting - March 11, 2024www.youtube.com

Nicole Gray, a queer nonbinary Oklahoman, said the board is giving only “lip service” to being against bullying. “What matters isn’t whether or not you say you’re against bullying but rather what you do about it,” they said.

Susie Eubank, a lesbian mother, said her teenage son has been bullied extensively in his year in the Owasso schools. He has been the subject of slurs, and one schoolmate said he would make her son his “bitch.” Other parents have heard similar tales of bullying from their children, she said. “Our children are hurting. They are all screaming for help. When will you hear them?” she said.

Another lesbian mother, LeaAnne Wilson, who has three children in the Owasso schools, likewise said her son has been bullied all school year and no action has been taken. She has heard reports of bullying of many other students as well, she added. The school district claims to have a zero-tolerance policy on bullying, but it hasn’t lived up to it, she said. “It took a student dying for y’all to see that something is wrong,” she said.

Aaron Forst defended the board and administrators, saying they has supported students in the wake of Benedict’s death. He said no one knows what really happened in that school restroom or who the aggressor was. It shouldn’t be assumed that a person from a given “demographic” is necessarily the victim, he said.

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Kylan Durant, president of the Oklahoma Pride Alliance, was the last public commenter. He spoke of high rates of suicidal ideation among queer and trans youth, then called on the board to create an affirming environment for all students. “Having just one accepting adult in a kid’s life can reduce the risk of suicide attempt by up to 40 percent,” he said. “Let’s be a community full of accepting adults for our youth.”

Early on in the meeting, Superintendent Margaret Coates read a statement saying the district had provided continuous support to students after Benedict’s death and will continue to review its policies. “I remain committed to listening and collaborating with our students, families, staff and community, and I invite everyone to join [Owasso Public Schools] in this important work,” she said. “Our mission as a public school is to love, challenge, and prepare all students for life after high school. We embrace this mission wholeheartedly. In closing, the best way we can honor the memory of Nex Benedict is to continue to simply treat others the way you want to be treated — with dignity, respect, compassion, and understanding every single day.”

Some attendees booed Coates, drawing a rebuke from board members.

The board took no action regarding any of the concerns raised by speakers, as it can act only on items that are on the published agenda.

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Trudy Ring

Trudy Ring is The Advocate’s senior politics editor and copy chief. She has been a reporter and editor for daily newspapers and LGBTQ+ weeklies/monthlies, trade magazines, and reference books. She is a political junkie who thinks even the wonkiest details are fascinating, and she always loves to see political candidates who are groundbreaking in some way. She enjoys writing about other topics as well, including religion (she’s interested in what people believe and why), literature, theater, and film. Trudy is a proud “old movie weirdo” and loves the Hollywood films of the 1930s and ’40s above all others. Other interests include classic rock music (Bruce Springsteen rules!) and history. Oh, and she was a Jeopardy! contestant back in 1998 and won two games. Not up there with Amy Schneider, but Trudy still takes pride in this achievement.
Trudy Ring is The Advocate’s senior politics editor and copy chief. She has been a reporter and editor for daily newspapers and LGBTQ+ weeklies/monthlies, trade magazines, and reference books. She is a political junkie who thinks even the wonkiest details are fascinating, and she always loves to see political candidates who are groundbreaking in some way. She enjoys writing about other topics as well, including religion (she’s interested in what people believe and why), literature, theater, and film. Trudy is a proud “old movie weirdo” and loves the Hollywood films of the 1930s and ’40s above all others. Other interests include classic rock music (Bruce Springsteen rules!) and history. Oh, and she was a Jeopardy! contestant back in 1998 and won two games. Not up there with Amy Schneider, but Trudy still takes pride in this achievement.