ADMIRE — The parents of a USD 251 North Lyon County student who was kicked off her school bus on Jan. 26 for using the word “lesbian,” say video footage of the incident confirmed their daughter’s story.
Tasha Cooper and Daniel Dieker, the parents of 13-year-old NLC Elementary School eighth grader Izzy Dieker were given the opportunity to view footage of the event Friday morning and said Izzy’s description of the events was confirmed — and the bus driver’s version was not.
“We viewed the video and everything that Izzy said happened,” Cooper, Izzy’s step-mother, said.
Cooper and Dieker met with USD 251 Superintendent Bob Blair on Friday morning to watch the video from the bus’s camera and to discuss next steps.
“He told us today that he will be looking into getting a[n] investigator, which it will be someone who isn’t in the school at all, someone outside,” Cooper said. “And they’ll be getting in touch with the principal, the driver and us.”
The investigator will likely be a former USD 251 superintendent or a superintendent from another school.
Cooper said it was difficult to watch the tape and know that the bus driver had falsified her report at the expense of her child.
“I was in disbelief that an adult would lie about what happened with a child,” she said. “That was the thing that I still can’t get past.”
The incident in question occurred while Izzy — an out member of the LGBTQ+ community — was riding the bus home from school, sitting with about six of her friends and goofing off like all the other kids on the bus were.
“We’re all messing around and everybody’s saying things and one of them, one of my closest friends, are like, ‘Aw, Izzy, you’re such a lesbian,’” Izzy explained. “And I’m like, ‘yep, I’m a lesbian.’ With my luck, of course, the bus went silent at that moment. Not exactly silent, but very quiet. The bus driver happened to [have] heard it and she yelled, ‘Language!’ And I thought she may have been yelling at one of the other kids because, you know, everybody else is cussing. It’s normal. It’s a middle school bus, what do you expect?”
Izzy had no reason to believe the bus driver was talking to her, because, in her opinion, she hadn’t said anything inappropriate like other kids had been doing the entire bus ride.
“She stopped the bus and she came back there, of course, so she could talk to me,” Izzy said. “She asked me if I thought it was appropriate for me to be saying the word ‘lesbian’ around young ears to hear, and I told her, ‘Yes, I believe so. I don’t see anything wrong with it.’ [I was] being totally respectful, said nothing disrespectful. Then she asked me if I think they even know what it meant, and I said, ‘I believe they should because there’s nothing wrong with it’. Of course, she was upset that I disagreed with her and she moved me up to the front, which I had no problem with. I listened. I got myself and I moved up there.”
Izzy’s friends, though, were infuriated by what had occurred and began to yell directly at the bus driver.
“She obviously heard it,” Izzy said. “She would glare at them. Like, they were straight-up cussing at her and she knew it and she’s fully aware of it.”
“To quote one of them, they said, ‘My mom thinks you’re a bitch,’” said Daniel Dieker, Izzy’s father. “So [the driver] heard other kids cursing.”
“But she didn’t care until I said that I was a lesbian,” Izzy concluded.
When Izzy got home, she told Cooper about what had happened. Cooper told Izzy that she wasn’t surprised and explained that sometimes in small communities, there can be a tendency for people to be “very conservative and closed-minded.”
Izzy thought that this was just a single incident and it would “blow over” in time. But then, later that afternoon, Cooper came to talk to Izzy.
“She’s like, ‘Your dad got a call from the school saying that you’re kicked off the bus [for a week],’” Izzy explained.
Izzy was shocked. She was rarely one to get in trouble, and she truly believed that she hadn’t done anything wrong. She thought she certainly hadn’t done anything wrong in comparison to the other things being said on the bus that day, for which no consequences were doled out.
“Just to put it in perspective real quick, … she got one write-up before for leaving trash on the bus and that was like two years ago,” Dieker said. “It’s not like she’s had ongoing issues or was close to being written up three times or something like that. Normally, if you’re written up three times in the year, then you get kicked off the bus for a week.”
But this was Izzy’s first write-up since she was in sixth grade, and yet she had been banned from riding the bus until the following Tuesday. It was a consequence not just for her, but also for her parents who would now have to drive her 30 minutes to school from their home in Admire and back again.
When Dieker got home, Izzy explained to him what had happened, and he realized that her narrative of events was very inconsistent with what he’d been told on the phone by NLC principal Corey Wiltz.
The school’s response
“About, I think, 5:30 or so, I got the call from Mr. Wiltz,” Dieker said. “He said that he just got off the phone with the bus driver and she was pretty distraught about the situation. So Izzy’s getting kicked off the bus because she said, ‘I’m a[n] effing lesbian’ and was being real loud and obnoxious about it and the bus driver warned her to stop a couple times and she kept at it and then she was asked to move to the front of the bus and she didn’t.”
Dieker said that Wiltz told him that the school takes inappropriate language very seriously because “we have little ears on that bus.”
“Thinking on it more later, I realized that his issue was with her saying that she’s a lesbian,” Dieker said. “I mean, obviously the cursing too, if she did.”
But Izzy insists that she didn’t curse, nor did she keep saying she was a lesbian repeatedly, nor did she refuse to listen to the bus driver when she was told to move, all of which were allegations the bus driver made in her report about the incident.
“A lot of people misunderstand,” Izzy said. “They think I just blurted out, ‘I’m a lesbian,’ for no reason when really there was a whole conversation beside that and it was just my friend and I messing around.”
The next day, Wednesday, Izzy was called into Wiltz’s office, where the two of them reviewed the write-up the bus driver had submitted. On it was listed: disrespectful behavior toward the bus driver, repeated use of inappropriate language and insubordination. Izzy told Wiltz that none of those things were true and asked if he’d reviewed the camera footage.
“He said, ‘well, I take my bus drivers’ words over my own students’ because I expect [drivers] to be truthful about everything’,” Izzy reported.
Wiltz then told her that, because she had disagreed with the driver’s report, he would look over the tapes that evening to find out what really happened.
“That’s another thing I took issue with after thinking on it a little bit,” Dieker said. “[Wiltz thought] it was a serious enough issue to bypass the three strikes rule and go straight to missing a week on the bus, but it wasn’t serious enough to double-check the tape. … I understand not checking the tape for every complaint just because you expect your people, the adults driving the bus, to be mature and responsible and report things accurately. But if it’s serious enough to make exceptions to your policy, it should be serious enough to double-check.”
That evening, Dieker emailed Wiltz to explain that, in his opinion, what was happening to Izzy was unfair treatment and that if she could just be allowed to ride the bus again, they would be willing to let the situation go.
“In my email, it said that I expected her to ride the bus again [tomorrow] because this whole thing’s been blown out of proportion,” Dieker said. “She may not have been 100% right, but she hadn’t done anything worthy of being kicked off the bus.”
The family said Wiltz never responded. Then on Thursday, he brought Izzy into his office after watching the footage from the bus. While Wiltz acknowledged Izzy’s version of the story was true, he still opted to keep her off of the bus until the following week.
“I don’t understand why I’m getting punished for saying I’m a lesbian,” Izzy told a teacher.
The teacher took Izzy down to confront Wiltz directly about what, in particular, was inappropriate about what Izzy had done on the bus.
“[My teacher] asked him, ‘What is wrong about kids hearing the word lesbian? You know we have many same-sex parents in this school’,” Izzy said. “And [Wiltz] said, ‘Well, I don’t really think it’s appropriate for kids to be hearing about that.’ And she asked him, ‘Well, if she was to happen to say loud enough for the bus driver to hear, “I’m straight”, would this even be happening at all?’ And he said, ‘No’. …
“He said that he wasn’t like his father, he wasn’t closed-minded at all and he wasn’t homophobic. But this situation, I found it very homophobic and I took this very personally and I very [much] doubt that. It sounded like he’s trying to cover for himself because he had an idea that stuff was probably already going on and word was getting out.”
After Izzy and her teacher left Wiltz’s office, the teacher explained that what was happening to Izzy was discrimination. However, in Kansas, discrimination against an individual for their sexual orientation in educational settings is perfectly legal and NLC Elementary’s policy handbook does not list sexual orientation or gender identity as protected from discrimination.
In addition to this teacher, Izzy has had several other school staff, as well as peers, step up alongside her as well. One school employee purchased rainbow pins for any staff or student who wanted to wear one in support of Izzy, and members of the Northern Heights High School cheerleading team wore rainbow ribbons in their hair during recent basketball games.
Upon hearing about Izzy’s most recent conversation with Wiltz, her parents realized that the situation would not be resolved in an appropriate way and that their daughter was the victim of discrimination. Dieker sent Wiltz another email, calling him a “coward because he was punishing a kid for something that he said she didn’t do anything wrong. But he was still punishing her because he didn’t want to stand up to his bus driver.”
“I told him that we were going to escalate it,” Dieker said. “This is completely unacceptable and he’s being harmful to her and harming her learning environment. … We had a chance to put this behind us and he didn’t want to.”
Shortly after that email, Wiltz called Dieker and claimed he still hadn’t received any of Dieker’s emails. According to Dieker, Wiltz “was real apologetic, kept trying to backtrack” by offering her to let her start riding the bus again Monday instead of Tuesday, meaning Cooper would still have to drive her to school and back on Friday.
“I called him out and [asked] why it was a big enough deal that he’d go skip this three strikes rule and go straight to kicking her off the bus and not a big enough deal to double-check the tapes,” Dieker said. “He said, ‘Well, I just trusted my drivers, so I didn’t really think to look at the tape, and this is something I’ll learn from and look at this going forward.’ Just trying to cover his own ass and wanting to drop it there.”
The Gazette reached out to Wiltz for comment, who then referred The Gazette to Blair.
“USD 251 is unable to discuss confidential student matters in order to protect the privacy rights of our students,” Blair said in an email. “Our school district takes all allegations of discrimination of any kind seriously and will respond meaningfully to any report of discrimination. All such complaints are promptly investigated.”
The Diekers decided they needed to make this story known, not because they wanted to sue anyone (which they don’t) or to get revenge, but because they don’t believe anyone should be treated the way Izzy was and because they want to see meaningful change.
“It’s kind of hurtful when someone is discriminatory against you, but it’s going to happen from time to time,” Dieker said. “But when a person in a position of authority enforces that discriminatory opinion, then it’s outright damaging.”
“That’s been my thought from the beginning,” Cooper agreed. “We put the safety of our child in their hands, and something like this happens. I just don’t feel safe.”
Izzy struggled with the idea of whether to tell her story anonymously or not, but decided to share her name so that she could be a beacon of hope for other LGBTQ+ kids.
“Over the past week, I’ve been getting a lot of encouragement from people in my school telling me that I’m doing the right thing,” Izzy said. “I feel like going to the media was a good idea because this needs to be heard because there’s plenty of kids out there who I know are struggling to find their identity, and hearing stories like this can bring them down. But I also want them to know that it’s right, and when they do decide to come out, then they need to fight for what’s right and not be scared.”
Izzy said she has had some people accuse her of using this situation as a stunt to gain attention.
“They can think whatever they want, it doesn’t make it true,” she said. “I want them to know that this is not at all for attention. I just want justice for what happened and I want everybody else to know that it’s perfectly okay to stand up for yourself and to be out there and to be open about who you love. It doesn’t matter if you’re gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual or whatever, it doesn’t matter your gender identity. It does not matter. You should be able to be open about it without having to go through stuff like this or negative comments.”
“There is no way any child or any person would want this kind of attention,” Cooper said. “There’s just no way. You don’t want people that you don’t even know to have a window into your life.”
While Izzy is allowed to ride the bus now, she and her family have chosen not to until they receive a new driver. Dieker has been in communication with Superintendent Bob Blair, who is working to find a different bus driver.
“[Blair] seems to be taking it seriously now,” Dieker said. “I’m not to get him in it. I’m not trying to cause any more problems with him or anything. He’s taking it seriously now and that’s what we want: to be taken seriously.”