A Texas dad who recently returned from a year in Afghanistan spent his time at home picketing his son's middle school after the teen was sent to another school for standing up to a bully he says had been harassing him for years.
Randy Duke, who trains police officers in Afghanistan, has found himself spending his days back in Victoria, Texas, wedged between two pieces of poster board with the phrase "BULLYING VICTIMS ARE PUNISHED HERE" emblazoned on each side. The 48-year-old dad spent hours each day wearing the signs and picketing outside of Cade Middle School.
"The school administration assessed the situation, and gave what I believe was a harsh punishment," Duke told ABC News. "They looked at this as a fight - which it was not. Had it been, in-school suspension would be an appropriate punishment."
Duke's 13-year-old son Max said he hit his breaking point after another student stomped on one of the expert paper airplanes Max had made and given to a classmate with special needs.
"My son said, 'why would you do that?' and the kid shoved my son. Max shoved back, and an altercation continued," Duke said. "Max has been working hard to stay away from him, since he had been confronted by him and other kids before. They would use racial slurs – saying 'we don't like you because you're white.'"
Accodring to Duke, a teacher said both Max and the other teen were able to get blows in. After the fight was broken up, Max was subjected to the school's policy on fights within the school -- a two-day suspension, after which he was sent to Victoria's Mitchell Guidance Center – an alternate school where students are sent through metal detectors, given pat-downs before entering and even have their fingernails checked.
Max's harshest punishment, however, was the nullification of his opportunity to play with Victoria High School's marching bands. He was one of eight middle school students selected to march with the band at football games. His dad says that playing with the band was a point of pride for Max, who had been withdrawing because of the bullying he'd suffered at school.
Since he has been working overseas, Duke had yet to see his son play with the high school band – for which one of his other daughters performs color guard.
"He was drawing into a shell, not making friends or going out to play," Duke said. "When he played with the band, he started coming out of his shell. Now all of a sudden, he had something to drive towards, he was opening up and making friends."
After two meetings with the school's assistant principal, a conversation with the middle school's principal, and unreturned calls from the superintendent of Victoria's secondary schools, Duke decided to start a protest.
For two hours per day, Duke, a former law enforcement officer with 20 years of experience, headed down to the middle school and began walking the public sidewalks outside the school, wearing his sign. He says he was there at times when parents and teachers would definitely see his message about what was going on at his boy's school.
"I got lots of thumbs ups, and cars honking at me," Duke said. "I talked with other parents who said their child was bullied and it was improperly handled. There's been a lot of national attention with children committing suicide over [bullying]."
Duke says soon he started to see police patrol cars drive by - which he says he figured out were sent by the school to keep an eye on him. He says that he personally knew all of the officers that were sent over. "What a waste of their time I was!" he said.
Duke's protest began to gain more attention as a hearing on a formal complaint he'd filed approached. After a meeting with the soon-to-be new superintendent, he was under the impression that Max, whose grades had begun to suffer while at the alternative school, would be back at his middle school. But the investigation into the incident continued.
"He said that it would take time. Meanwhile my son is being punished as we sit here. My goal was to get him back into classes, and get his grades back. I got frustrated. I was about to put my signs back on," he said.
Duke's wife Wendy then made two well-placed phone calls, and quickly an agreement was made that the couple we would retract their complaint against the school, which Duke said was incorrectly worded. Max was quickly reenrolled at his middle school, and was able to perform with the marching band. Duke credits his wife's cool temper for her son's re-enrollment. "It's good I was never a hostage negotiator," he said. "It wouldn't end well."
Since resolving the issue, Duke has begun to organize with other parents in his community to create more awareness about bullying problems within the schools, and urge the district to have comprehensive training on how to handle the issue. The principal at Cade Middle School told Duke that representatives from the school will be sent to his meetings.
"Instead of us against them, my purpose is to mend our community," he said. "I'm hoping to plant the seed in the community. And I hope community leaders will step up and roll with it."
Now, with 15 days left before he returns to Afghanistan for another year, Duke can now say that after standing up for him, he was finally able to see his two kids perform together. "I watched through tears," he said. "It was amazing."