‘You have some decisions to make,' judge tells Sierra
Thursday December 6, 2001
By Eric Eyre
Kanawha Circuit Judge James Stucky told Katie Sierra Wednesday that he could not guarantee her safety at Sissonville High School.
Stucky said Sierra should expect additional criticism at school. He also offered to arrange Sierra's transfer to another Kanawha County high school.
"I personally believe other schools [in Kanawha County] are more diverse and have different views and that she may be able to go there and fit in a little niche," Stucky said in a face-to-face talk with Sierra and her mother in his courtroom Wednesday.
Kanawha school board lawyer Gary Pullin said Sierra would be welcome to return to Sissonville High.
"She's perfectly as safe at Sissonville as every other student," Pullin said.
"She's not every student at Sissonville High," Stucky responded. "She's Katie Sierra."
Last month, Sierra sued the school board after she was suspended for trying to start an anarchy club and wearing T-shirts with handwritten messages opposing U.S. military action in Afghanistan.
Sierra wants to wear the shirts and start the club. She also wants the suspension revoked from her student record.
On Nov. 2, Stucky rejected Sierra's request for a preliminary injunction, but her lawsuit is still pending. On Wednesday, Stucky scheduled a jury trial for June 24.
Two weeks ago, the girl's mother pulled her from Sissonville out of fear for her safety. Sierra now does most of her schoolwork at home, and attends some alternative night classes at Sissonville.
"I don't see my friends anymore," Sierra told Stucky before the scheduling conference.
"She's not handling this well," her mother told Stucky.
Sierra said students continue to call her names and threaten her when she attends the night school program. She said they call her "stupid."
"You're going to have to hear that," Stucky told her. "You've put yourself in that position. By the time this came to me, we had an explosive situation."
"I'm really scared," said Sierra, who wore a black armband to court Wednesday.
"We can't control other people's brains," Stucky said. "We can't control what other people think. I don't know what happened to you at Sissonville. I don't know what will happen if you return to Sissonville tomorrow morning. I don't know what will happen if you walk into the mall at 3 o'clock this afternoon.
"My question is what do we do? I can't make Sissonville High safe in the way you want me and change everybody's mind."
Sierra also has complained that students assaulted her, shoving her into her locker and elbowing her in the back. She has been unable to identify the students.
Sissonville High Principal Forest Mann has twice spoken to students at school assemblies, urging them not to harass anyone. He has pledged to keep the school safe.
"There's not one shred of credible evidence that Miss Sierra was ever assaulted," Pullin said. "There's no reason to believe if she returns to Sissonville High that she's going to be assaulted."
Sierra's lawyer, Roger Forman, presented Stucky with a note from a Sissonville student who identified one of Sierra's alleged attackers.
"You don't know what it's like to be hated by everybody but seven people," Sierra said.
Stucky said he sympathized with Sierra and school officials. He cautioned her not to paint all Sissonville students and parents with a "wide brush."
"I want you to get an education," Stucky said. "I want you to be as happy in life as you can be. But you have some decisions to make."
Sierra and her mother planned to visit a Quaker boarding school in Ohio today. Sierra said she also has been invited to attend a high school in Poland run by anarchists.
To contact Eric Eyre, use e-mail or call 348-5194.