Overland Park, KS: I first heard of Dylan Theno on April 21st of this year. I was channel surfing and landed on E! Investigates. My initial thought was: Here we go again! Another bullied kid commits another atrocious act. I was sick of kids committing violent acts or suicide, because they felt they had no recourse. I wondered again, how many people have to die before school bullying is taken seriously? It appears there has been an apathy pandemic in our educational system. There’s really no excuse…it usually boils down to some indifferent asshole interested only in their paycheck, or afraid to act for what ever reason. Dylan Theno’s story, though, was a breath of fresh air. In fact, I contacted him and told him how much I admired how he handled his situation. I think that Dylan found the answer. He took the time to answer me and graciously thanked me. I hope by the end of this article, some will realize that Dylan is to be admired.
A couple weeks after this exchange, I was picked up by Crime Crawlers. ThinkGoat is a great boss and she allows her writers the freedom to express themselves and to pick their own articles. I had just finished an article about eleven year old Celina Okwuone, a fifth grade student who took her own life to escape her bullies. It broke my heart. I decided to ask Dylan if I could interview him to show the other side of the coin. Dylan, a cheerful young man, readily agreed. I must admit, I was a bit intimidated. Dylan had been interviewed by numerous professional reporters, and now he was going to be interviewed by a man that didn’t even graduate high school. I guess I could have suggested we just do it online. First, I wouldn’t accidentally misquote him, but it would give me time to formulate my questions. I rejected this, because one can glean so much more speaking person to person…and I wanted to know who Dylan Theno actually was.
Things started going bad for Dylan when he first entered Tonganoxie High School, Tonganoxie, KS. It’s a typical small-town high school. According to http://public-schools.findthebest.com, there are 42.3 full-time equivalent teachers, and 605 total students at Tonganoxie High. The student teacher ratio at is 14.42:1. There are countless schools like this across the country, but one must look past the statistics and the stereotypical scenes of small-town football teams and cheerleaders. We need to cut through the facade and peer into the guts of the school. Dylan explained that in Tonganoxie, the most important thing is having ‘the names’. I knew exactly what he was talking about…your school life depended on exactly what your family represented in the community. Sport stars and last names are paramount. It was like that in my school also. If you don’t have the luxury of carrying that reputation, you’re either a non-entity, or a target. Unfortunately, Dylan became a target of a pack mentality.
It started with some asshole calling Dylan a “fag”. From there, the pack mentality took over and it became popular to harass Dylan. For the next five years, he had to deal with nearly constant bullying…not only at school, but at school events, even ‘jocks’ driving through town managed to get a shot in on their way to some circle jerk. I asked Dylan what the staff did when presented with this information. “They lied,” he said simply. He told me that he couldn’t remember the exact number of times that he and his parents complained, but it was many times, and somewhere he had the documentation.
Dylan credited his parents and sister for helping him through this tough time. In fact, I could tell the love and appreciation he had for them in his voice. It still had to be hell for him, walking through those doors every day, knowing what he was walking into. Things only escalated. Dylan admitted that he was in a few scrapes, but nothing major. He was far from being a coward, incidentally. When Dylan first walked through those high school doors, not only was he an accomplished amateur boxer, he had already earned his black-belt in Karate! He actually had the capacity to kill his tormentors. What stopped him was discipline and demeanor. He didn’t want to hurt anyone…he just wanted the shit to stop. Dylan said he had few friends during this time. I would think people would fear becoming targets themselves, perhaps being branded gay as well. After all, the bullying fucks had called Dylan every variation of gay you could think of.
“You know,” Dylan told me. “Ninety percent of people who lose fights, lose because they have never been hit before. I want to tell you, man, that first time I got punched changed my whole outlook.” I think Dylan was explaining that initially, he didn’t want to fight anyone, but after that first time you have to eat a fist, you realize that it really doesn’t hurt as bad as you think. He’s right.
One day when he was 16, Dylan had had his fill of bullshit. He was confronted by another tormentor and this time there was a fight. “I actually hurt the guy,” he told me. He wasn’t bragging, either…his voice sounded regretful to me. I was halfway hoping Dylan just stomped the piss out of the kid, but I’m sure he held back. The bully didn’t need hospitalization, but he did need to see his doctor. Tonganoxie High School responded by suspending both Dylan and the bully. The fight didn’t end for Dylan and his family, it had just begun. Dylan left the school completely. But Dylan did something I don’t think any administrator or teacher that he and his parents spoke with, suspected would happen: They filed a lawsuit against Tonganoxie High School.
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 states in part that, “No person in the United States, shall on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied benefits of, or be subjected to any discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance…” Ironically, this Amendment was targeted to help high school and college athletes of color and gender. Now Dylan Theno could benefit from the same law that was meant to help some of the people that tormented him. In May of 2004, Arthur Benson filed suit in United Stated District Court for the District of Kansas in the name of Dylan Theno, accusing Tonganoxie High School of denying Dylan an education under the Title IX theory. It had never been tested before…not from this aspect. Pretty fucking smart, there, Mr. Benson. My hat’s off to you, sir.
The Theno Family asked for $700,000.00: The asking price for five years of hell. Dylan related that the gathering evidence process was pretty labor intensive and took quite a bit of time. Dylan wasn’t idle, though…he earned his GED from Johnson County Community College. He went on to start taking college courses.
Dylan also had his demons to deal with. No one just walks away from the shit he went through unaffected. I imagine he just spent some time just basking in the idea that he would never have to see the inside of his prison again. On Thursday, August 11, 2005, Judge John Lungstrum found that Tonganoxie High School was indeed guilty of denying Dylan Theno a proper education under the Title IX law. He was awarded $250,00o.00.
Dylan had handled the situation the right way. He got them right in the wallet! That is the answer (in my opinion) of how we can curb the burgeoning problem of bullying in our schools. Hit them where they live. Perhaps then people will not have to find out their child has gone on a rampage and shot the fuck out of his school. Parents won’t open their child’s door and find them hanging in their closet. Regular kids can get an education with out worrying about Johnny Jockstrap and Mary Nopimple and the pack mentality. What Dylan did works.
Every article that I read about Dylan went out of their way to mention that Dylan is not gay. I can’t understand what possible difference it could make in the court proceedings, or in any other person’s life, for that matter. I hope he didn’t have to testify in court as to his sexuality. What an embarrassment that would be. The losing attorney, Steve Pigg, (I know) passed it off as something adolescent boys do to each other. It’s funny for them. Lame, Pigg. Dylan didn’t think it was funny. The School District considered an appeal, but a year later, the school paid Dylan his money. When Dylan mentioned the money to me, it was like an afterthought. I didn’t even ask him what he did with it, but I hope he spent some on something nice for himself.
Today Dylan is still living in the Midwest. “I’m loving life,” Dylan told me. He’s made some very good friends that he can trust, one in particular helped him through the really tough times during the time of the trial. They were there for Dylan and if anyone would appreciate a friend, it would be Dylan. He remains very positive when he talks about those years. “I gained 20 years of life experience is just those few short years.” Dylan graduated from college this year with dual associate degrees in Applied Science and Business Administration. He plans to relocate to a metropolitan area “somewhere on a coast” and pursue a career as a person assistant. “I would kick ass as a personal assistant,” Dylan said. I have no doubt he will.
I asked Dylan if he was bitter and his answer was wise beyond his young years. “You know, let those guys stay in that little town and work at the jobs their dads got them. Let them go to the same places and see the same people.” I thought that a profound answer. He was absolutely right. These “bullies” had reached their pinnacle in life. Dylan said, “I have places to go and things to see.” He made the very best of a bad situation. He wants others to know there are alternatives to help those being bullied. “If this helps just one person who reads it, then it was worth it.”