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NORTH TONAWANDA: Gay high school student is out for justice
Rhonda J Mangus | June 7, 2007 at 02:56 pmby
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By Phil Dzikiyemail@example.com
“We’ve never had a child quite like Michael.”
According to Rhonda Mangus, an employee of the North Tonawanda School District said this about her son, Michael Mangus, who came out as gay in eighth grade.
Michael Mangus has now been out of school for the greater part of two years, after his mother pulled him out of North Tonawanda High School for what she calls a failure to provide a safe learning environment for her son.
Rhonda Mangus has filed human rights complaints against the district, and the district has filed complaints against her as well, she said.
Now, she’s planning on taking her case to the state Supreme Court. She no longer wants her son to go back to North Tonawanda High School, but she wants the school district to pay for his lost years of learning.
“They have robbed my child of two years of his education,” she said.
Michael Mangus came out in eighth grade, and when he came out, he really came out.
“Through eighth grade, he wore makeup,” Rhonda Mangus said. “He carried a purse.”
Things never got better for Michael Mangus at the middle school level, but he was hoping for a fresh start in high school. During his first day at high school, a student hit him and called him a “faggot,” Michael Mangus said. He started skipping out of classes due to the abuse.
“People would just taunt me every period,” he said.
Crying became a big part of his life. Michael Mangus would cry during school and after school, he said.
His grades were suffering as well, Rhonda Mangus said. An employee at the high school told him that he had to “tone it down.”
“There was no support in the environment for him,” she said.
Michael Mangus had friends at school, but it wasn’t enough to stop the constant harassment, he said.
“Everyone said, ‘You’re gay, you’re going to hell,’ ” he said.
Michael Mangus became increasing more angry about the treatment he was receiving from fellow students, he said.
“I dealt with it in the wrong way,” he said. “I shouldn’t have lashed out, but it was the only thing I knew how to do at the time.”
The situation came to an ugly head when Michael received a death threat, Rhonda Mangus said.
Michael Mangus left a notebook in class, and when he returned to pick it up, he found that someone had left him a note. The note was an expletive-laden death threat. Underneath the threat was a drawing of a hangman with an arrow pointing to it, reading, “This represents all fags.” Mangus still has the notebook.
That was the day Rhonda Mangus decided to pull her son from school, on Oct. 12, 2005. He went back into school briefly in 2006, but his mother pulled him out again.
Michael Mangus has gotten used to being out of school, but he’s looking to continue his education.
“At first, I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m out of school,’ ” Michael said.
“It’s a weird feeling,” he said.
Rhonda Mangus vs. the district
Rhonda Mangus and the school district have battled each other on the issue, but nothing has been resolved.
North Tonawanda School Board President Scott Schultz hasn’t received any updated information recently on any pending litigation, he said.
North Tonawanda High School principal Jim Fisher would not comment on the matter.
Andrew Freedman is the attorney representing the school district in the Mangus case. Due to the Family Educational Rights Privacy Act, nothing can be discussed regarding the specifics of the case, Freedman said.
“Any time an allegation of harassment is raised, an investigation will be done,” he said. “It is our opinion that we’ve acted in full compliance with the state.”
Freedman could not comment on whether or not the issue was finished.
But Rhonda Mangus is certainly not finished.
“Kids and parents need to know they have to provide a safe environment for your child,” she said. “Stop perceiving children as the problem.”
Michael Mangus plans on entering a GED program to finish his education.
For now, he will continue to hang out with his friends, including gay and lesbian friends from North Tonawanda. There is a gay and lesbian community in the city, though it’s not as out in the open as Michael Mangus is, he said.
Contact Phil Dzikiyat 693-1000, Ext. 114.