he bullies wouldn't leave his learning-disabled son alone. So Bill Henck decided to push back.
Henck is making one last stand to bring attention to the incessant bullying he says his son faced at a Henrico County School. It's not the money (he's suing for a paltry $23,000), but at best a Pyrrhic victory.
"My goal is to get some attention so this doesn't happen to anyone else," Henck explains. "This," he says, is continuous bullying of his learning disabled son at his Henrico County elementary school and county officials' efforts to first ignore, then cover up, the fact that the school's employees did little to stop it.
Henck, a tax attorney, is no pussycat. In fact, he established himself as a whistleblower after he accused the IRS in 2003 of backing off its crackdown on gratuitous tax breaks for corporations claiming synthetic fuel credits, a story that got national attention.
His new fight, however, is more personal. And relief may be on the way. Henck says word of a settlement is floating. And although he is hopeful that he'll receive reimbursement for at least some of the tuition he's paid for his son's new private school, he's not optimistic. "My guess is that they're not going to settle," he says.
The story begins in 2004 when Henck's son David, who suffers from Asperger's Syndrome (a mild form of autism), was the target of threats and bullying as a fourth grader at Short Pump Elementary. Despite several verbal and e-mail discussions between David's mother, Leigh, and his then teacher, the bullying continued. In a letter to the Henrico County Board of Supervisors, Henck wrote that "we realized that David would have to attend another school." Those attempts, he says, were thwarted by the school system. "The county's position was that Short Pump, and only Short Pump, was the correct placement for David," he says.
The Hencks subsequently enrolled their son in fifth grade at Northstar Academy, a private school where tuition is nearly $10,000 a year. The Hencks then appealed to the county for reimbursement. But in an October 2004 due process hearing, Henck says, school representatives, including Short Pump Elementary principal Ron Odum, provided erroneous information and withheld pertinent information.
The Hencks were determined to make that case. Henrico County Commonwealth's Attorney Wade Kizer was ready for them to make it elsewhere. "Mr. Henck was unhappy with this office," says Kizer, "and when I felt like none of our efforts would satisfy him, I requested a special prosecutor."
Enter New Kent Commonwealth's Attorney Linwood Gregory, who in November of 2004 took over the case. Principal Odum was charged with perjury shortly thereafter. The case was thrown out after a Henrico County circuit court judge ruled that the oath Odum and others took at the hearing was unnecessary and, therefore, Odum did not lie under oath. On Dec. 9, 2004, the administrative hearing officer issued his opinion denying the Hencks relief.
The Hencks must file their appeal by Dec. 11, or the statute of limitations expires. Win or lose, the Hencks are worn out. "At this point, I don't really care," says Henck. "I just want people to know what happened with the way they treated my family and the way they treat people." S