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Bullying Case Settled, Spurs New Law

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Clarification: In the earlier print and online versions, Style reported that a criminal perjury case was pursued against Short Pump Elementary School teacher Kerry Vavra. Short Pump Elementary School Principal Ron Odom was indicted on perjury charges, not Vavra, and a judge later dismissed the charges.

Henrico County Schools has agreed to pay the family of a bullied student $16,475 to settle a lawsuit stemming from incessant bullying at Short Pump Elementary School.

Bill Henck says that bullies began targeting his learning-disabled son at the school in 2004, and he charges that school administrators refused to consider relocating his then-fourth-grade son to another school.

"I've been through a lot of stuff in my life, but dealing with Henrico County was the worst experience of my life," Henck says.

His son David suffers from Asperger's syndrome, a mild form of autism, and is now enrolled at Northstar Academy. Henck sued Henrico County schools, which decided to settle in late 2006.

The Hencks' troubles also inspired a piece of legislation that will go into effect this summer.

The family's dispute with the school and county centered on statements made by Short Pump Elementary principal Ron Odom that Henck says were false and designed to mask what little was done to intervene on behalf of his son when the bullying occurred.

Henck filed a complaint with Henrico Police claiming Odom and a schoolteacher committed perjury, but a special prosecutor appointed to the case only indicted Odom. That case, however, was tossed out of court. Because Odom made the statements in question during an administrative hearing, the judge ruled he wasn't under oath, therefore couldn't have perjured himself.

State Sen. Benjamin Lambert, D-Richmond, successfully sponsored a bill that extends the oath requirement to special-education administrative hearings. The measure goes into effect July 1.

Another bill, sponsored by State Sen. Walter Stosch (R-Henrico), died in the House after fierce opposition from the teachers' union. It would have created a state grant program for the families of special-education students who were "dissatisfied with the student's progress in a public school." It would have offered grants of up to $10,000 a year to families for tuition at nonsectarian private schools such as Northstar.

Such a program would amount to a "fiscal windfall for local school systems in the commonwealth," according to a study released last week by the Springfield-based Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy.

"Stosch's bill would free parents like me and my wife from being bullied by the county," Henck says.

Henck's son is doing well at Northstar, he says, and Henck says he's spoken with his minister about letting go of his anger over the experience. But he still feels uncomfortable at Short Pump Elementary, where his younger son is still enrolled.

"There were no winners in this," Henck says. S

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