compiled by Patrick H. Moore
In 2000, Brandi Blackbear was a student at Union Intermediate High School in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. She wrote horror stories in the style of Stephen King, dressed in a slightly Goth-like way, and was not afraid to be herself, or to stand up to bullying by popular kids. Brandi’s otherness engendered hostility toward her from certain groups among her school’s culture. False stories of threats of violence were circulated, and the combination of her writing and the authorities’ natural hyper-awareness following the Columbine massacre led to her being suspended. When some of her fellow students later saw her checking out a book on world religions, including Wicca (as research for her stories), they immediately branded her a witch, and eventually accused her of casting a spell that made a teacher sick. Fear of her spread through much of the school, and she was suspended for a second time.
According to an ABC News article dated Oct. 28, 2000, an Oklahoma high school suspended a 15-year-old student after accusing her of casting a magic spell that caused a teacher to become sick, lawyers for the student said on Friday.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on behalf of student Brandi Blackbear, charging that the assistant principal of Union Intermediate High School in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, suspended her for 15 days last December for supposedly casting a spell. The ACLU does not accept the notion that a charge of “casting a spell” is sufficient grounds for suspension.
The suit also charged the Tulsa-area Union Public Schools with repeatedly violating Blackbear’s civil rights by seizing the notebooks she used to write horror stories and barring her from drawing or wearing signs of the pagan religion Wicca.
“It’s hard for me to believe that in the year 2000 I am walking into court to defend my daughter against charges of witchcraft brought by her own school,” said Timothy Blackbear, Brandi’s father.
Joann Bell, executive director of the ACLU’s Oklahoma chapter, said the “outlandish accusations” had made Blackbear’s life at school unbearable. Bell simply refuses to believe that Brandi’s alleged “spell” actually made the teacher sick:
“I, for one, would like to see the so-called evidence this school has that a 15-year-old girl made a grown man sick by casting a magic spell,” Bell said.
Unsurprisingly, a lawyer for the school district declined to comment.
The lawsuit is simple enough. It alleges that Blackbear was summoned to the office of Assistant Principal Charlie Bushyhead last December after a teacher fell ill, and was questioned about her interest in Wicca.
According to the lawsuit, Brandi Blackbear had read a library book about Wicca beliefs and, under aggressive interrogation by Bushyhead, said she might be a Wiccan. In fact, Blackbear is a Roman Catholic, according to the newspaper Tulsa World.
“The interview culminated with Defendant Bushyhead accusing Plaintiff, Brandi Blackbear, of casting spells causing (a teacher at the school) … to be sick and to be hospitalized,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit stated that because of the “unknown cause” of the teacher’s illness, Bushyhead advised the 15-year-old girl “that she was an immediate threat to the school and summarily suspended her for what he arbitrarily determined to be a disruption of the education process.”
* * * * *
The ACLU is, of course, on solid ground in deriding the notion that Brandi could have made the teacher sick. But when you think about it, the really scary thing is that Assistant Principal Charlie Bushyhead and other authorities as well members of the student body and god knows who else may ACTUALLY BELIEVE that Brandi’s spell knocked the props out from under the teacher.
Brandi Blackbear, a senior-to-be at Union Intermediate High School, has lost her lawsuit that claimed she was suspended because of her interest in the Wicca religion.
Eagan said Blackbear testified during a deposition that she is not, has never been and has never wanted to be a Wiccan. The judge also said Blackbear admitted that the defendants have not done anything to keep her from practicing any religion.
“In view of this testimony, the court finds that Brandi does not hold a sincere belief in the religion of Wicca,” Eagan wrote in the order.
Union Public Schools attorney Doug Mann was much harsher and called the lawsuit “absolutely ridiculous.”
District Superintendent Cathy Burden seemed perturbed and perhaps a bit embarrassed by the whole matter. She the case became an “international media event” that put Union in an unfair light. And Ms. Burden was worried about financial drain. The “frivolous lawsuit,” she said, cost the district more than $100,000 in legal fees.
Judge Eagan’s order also said Blackbear has admitted that religion played no role in the decision to discipline her in December 1999.
The judge’s decision supports Brandi’s suspensions on the grounds she was “disrupting the educational process.”
Cathy Burden set the record straight (at least in her mind) by stating that the July 18th suspension had nothing to do with religion and everything to do with Blackbear’s “terrorizing” students. Burden also said the whole “religious freedom” allegation appeared to be a ploy to make the lawsuit more exciting to the media.
So how did Brandi terrorize the other students? Simple, two of Blackbear’s classmates had alleged they were “fearful” because she allegedly was claiming to be a witch and to possess the power to harm people by casting spells on them, the order states.
Brandi’s terrorist threats consisted of her allegedly claiming she was a witch who could harm others by putting spells on them.
Now it seems to me that for the threats to be taken seriously, there would have had to have been some possibility that Brandi could actually carry them out. To carry them out, Brandi would have had to have been a witch, and an effective one at that — someone capable of casting spells that produce results.
But if she is not a witch (a member of Wiccan), and the court held that she is not, then it follows that the threats are completely empty — they are not actually terrorist threats at all but simply Brandi making statements that at most could be construed as meaningless threats. Meaningless not terrorist!
Therefore, unless something is escaping me, it seems clear that Brandi’s suspension was uncalled for. She didn’t really do anything but talk. She was wrongly suspended no matter how you look at it, unless she made violent threats, and there appears to be no evidence that she did.
* * * * *
Blackbear’s attorney John M. Butler said he thinks the order may not be “exactly correct” on those points and said his client’s purported statements may have been “taken out of context.” Butler also said an appeal is probable and expressed optimism that Blackbear will prevail at that level.
The good news is that Burden said Blackbear is now a “successful student in our district.”
The lawsuit was for $10 million which Brandi’s parents thought was too high. The ACLU said it had to be that high or it would not be taken seriously. Then a perhaps surprising thing happened. The school offered a settlement and the Blackbears refused to accept it. They turned down the money even though they needed it. What they really wanted was to have their story heard in court to inform the public that the school had mistreated Brandi.
When the judge ruled to dismiss the charges rather than going to trial, she ordered the Blackbears to pay $6000 in court fees, which they could not afford. Eventually it was agreed to drop the fees if the Blackbears dropped their appeal.
* * * * *
So what actually happened here was that Brandi Blackbear was accused of being a witch by Assistant Principal Bushyhead and at least two students. By being a witch, at least in Bushyhead’s eyes, Brandi had disrupted the educational process which in turn led to her suspension.
So she was suspended for being a witch even though — according to the Federal judge — she was not and had never been a witch.
It all seems like much ado about nothing except for the fact Brandi was unjustly suspended because of narrow-minded thinking on the part of the authorities. The unhealthy message that was delivered that is that if you are a young person and if you are different, you may be seen as persona non grata and stigmatized. It may even lead to your suspension. And that bogus suspension will be upheld in Federal court.
Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be witches. And if it’s somehow unavoidable, teach them to keep it on the downlow.
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