Sidelined from volleyball game on birthday of friend who did not survive kidnapping
On Oct. 3 Dezi Hughes, just 12-years-old, was in the news again. In May she was one of two girls kidnapped by a convicted sex offender in Dayton, Ohio. The young girl managed to escape from the hog farm where they were taken but her longtime friend then 15-year-old Kathlynn Shepard did not get out and was eventually brutally killed and left by the riverside. The abductor committed suicide.
Dezi spent much of the summer in therapy and trying to become a kid again through horseback riding and practicing volleyball to maintain her spot on the high school volleyball team.
However on Tuesday, Oct. 3 the school sidelined her from a volleyball competition game, a sport that her family and therapist consider part of her therapy. According to a report from WHO-TV (video attached), the school said she was not dressed well enough during the day to play in the game after school.
Her school has a policy that on game days student athletes need to dress up to show school pride. In the case of the girls that would mean a pair of slacks and a nice shirt. Dezi normally dressed appropriately but on this day she showed up at school wearing shorts and a long sleeved shirt. While within the school code for student attire, the coach decided to sideline her for not following game day policy.
Her mother says that considering all Dezi went through the school should be willing to bend the rules a little.
But Southeast Webster-Grand Superintendent Launi Dane says rules are rules, “I understand this is part of her therapy but I understand as she grows there will be rules that need to be maintained.”
She explained, “Every therapist that we have seen so far tells us that she needs an extracurricular activity. Something that does not pertain to what happened. Therapy pertains to what happened. School pertains to what happened. They seen each other every day at school,” says Dezi’s mother. "Volleyball is the one place where she doesn’t have to think about it.”
One thing that did not seem to be taken into consideration was that October 3rd would have been the 16th birthday of her friend Kathlynn. It was a heavy reminder of the abduction and the loss of her friend. Perhaps that was the reason for the outfit but no one has asked about that.
The decision became statewide news when WHO-TV reported on Dezi’s situation Wednesday and by the end of the week was covered internationally. The situation raised a delicate question: How should school officials work with a child who has experienced severe trauma?
“It certainly presents a challenge for a school district, because how adolescents handle trauma is complicated,” said Dr. Sasha Khosravi, medical director for pediatric behavioral health at Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines. “The brain and the body are already going through a lot in adolescents. Trauma makes an already sensitive time hypersensitive.”
The fact that the incident became statewide news is problematic, said Khosravi, the psychiatrist, who also consults on mental health issues for Des Moines schools.
“A trauma of this nature puts both the child and her parents in a constant state of red alert,” he said. “Everything is perceived as a threat. What you want to do with incidents is limit exposure. This is major exposure.”
Michael Klunder, the girl's abductor, had been released from prison in 2011 after serving 20 years for assaulting a woman and convictions for two separate Iowa kidnappings that occurred on back-to-back days in December 1991.