Last School Board Meeting Of School Year In Casper Filled With Sorrow

The last school board meeting of the school year in Casper was not light and upbeat as they usually are this time of year. The two teen murders earlier this year have left Casper and its school community shellshocked.

Dale Killingbeck

June 12, 20247 min read

Casper murders collage 6 12 24
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

CASPER — The last board meeting of a school year is usually light and upbeat with the obligatory acknowledgements for teachers, staff and student.

But the murders of a pair of local teens this spring has cast a pall over the community, and there was little lighthearted and upbeat this week when the Natrona County School District 1 trustees met for the final time of the 2023-24 school year.

Parents and residents continued pleading with the board for action to prevent bullying and help with suicide prevention.

That sparked some honest reflection from board members who have witnessed a parade of public pleading for change.

What locals have labeled a troubling culture of youth violence was thrust into the spotlight with the April 7 stabbing death of 14-year-old Bobby Maher who was killed at the Eastridge Mall while trying to defend his girlfriend. A pair of 15-year-olds have been charged as adults in Maher’s death.

A little more than a month later, 17-year-old Lenea Brown was shot and killed, and another teen charged with killing her.

Both murders have left Casper and its school community shellshocked.

“Let’s face it, this has been a rough year in a lot of ways. We have had two suicides, we’ve had two students that were killed by other students,” said Trustee Dana Howie, a former teacher at Kelly Walsh High School. “We seem to have some students in our school district who seem who embrace nastiness for the lack of a better term and try to solve problems with violence and it is kind of blowing my mind.”

A member of the community’s Suicide Prevention Task Force told the board during its Monday meeting that she was going Wednesday to deliver a care package to a family that recently lost a child to suicide.

Parent and Casper City Council member Brandy Haskins told said she has had students in the district since 2000 and has watched a decline over that time.

Bullying, Physical Harm

Information presented at the Board Academic Steering Committee and available online shows that the district has a 10-point plan to address school safety that started in 2018. Data presented shows that in the 2023-24 school year, incidents of bullying and cyber-bullying decreased by 52% compared to 2018-2019, from 188 to 90.

While the number of reports is down, kids are being more violent with each other, the data shows.

The same report shows that physical harm to others increased by 52.6% from 1,688 incidents in 2018-2019 to 2,576 in 2023-24.

The school district has an established “extreme discipline” policy, and parents asked the board to make sure those policies are enforced.

Billie Studanski, a parent who has started an ad-hoc group to lobby the district for change told the board during public comment that she understands the school district is just one part of the equation to solve bullying and violence issues.

“We don’t put it all on you,” she said. “We know that it starts at home; however, enforcing the policies that we have in place, it would make parents accountable, it would get them involved. If you could just enforce them, just enforce the policies you already have.”

Those policies state that if there is an incident of “assault/battery toward staff or student or fight” that “mandated consequences” include a three-day suspension with a re-entry conference for grades K-2 and a four-day suspension with re-entry conference for grades 3-12.

Superintendent Mike Jennings in his last meeting before retirement said the district has worked hard to ensure schools have a learning environment. He characterized 85% to 90% of the students in the district as “being very successful.”

“We have supports at all levels,” he said. “There is not one single administrator in this district, one teacher, one custodian, one ESP who wants a student to get bullied. There is not an individual to turn a blind eye. We work diligently.

“It hurts your heart. It doesn’t matter where you sit, which chair you are in, whether you are in a classroom or the principal’s office or the superintendent’s chair, it hurts.”

Jennings said people should never think that school personnel have turned a “blind eye or don’t care.”

Bobby Maher’s pallbearers, who included his brothers and friends, all word blue hooded sweatshirts with his name and baseball jersey number, “41.”
Bobby Maher’s pallbearers, who included his brothers and friends, all word blue hooded sweatshirts with his name and baseball jersey number, “41.” (Dale Killingbeck, Cowboy State Daily)

‘System Of Improvement’

Jennings called suicide prevention a “big deal” during his 31-year career and that the district has worked to end youth suicide.

“We are a system of improvement,” he said. “We need to get better, we will get better, but we are doing well. I disagree with false narrative that schools aren’t working. They are working. Can we do better? Absolutely we can do better.”

According to information provided to the board’s Academic Steering Committee, “harm-to-self” incidents reported in the school district leaped from 28 in the 2022-23 school year to 53 in 2023-24.

Annie Dundas of the Natrona County Suicide Prevention Task Force in Natrona County commended board members who attended a recent meeting of the new Youth Mental Health Collective of Natrona County that consists of agencies and groups supporting mental and behavioral health for youth.

She told the board she hopes the district understands the importance for “robust” teacher instruction on suicide prevention and proven strategies for “upstream” suicide prevention. She shared that some in the community feel the “board puts up barriers to collaboration.”

Information provided at the board’s Academic Steering Committee shows that all staff receive two hours of suicide prevention education and select staff receive another 50 minutes of training on suicide interventions. There are also plans to introduce curriculum changes in the new school year that will address “suicidal ideation.”

Shooting victim Lenea Brown turned 17 on May 4. She was shot and killed May 14. The day of her death, her dad received the copy of her birth certificate he had been seeking so he could help her get her driver’s license.
Shooting victim Lenea Brown turned 17 on May 4. She was shot and killed May 14. The day of her death, her dad received the copy of her birth certificate he had been seeking so he could help her get her driver’s license. (Courtesy David Henrikson)

Cooperation Needed

Meanwhile, Haskins encouraged the board to take the step of giving mailing lists to the Casper-Natrona County Health Department so that a parental handbook can be distributed that will help parents deal with the issues they are confronted with. She said the district has not made it easy to get the mailing list in the past.

“They get the addresses of every parent from the school district. I have only received one of these since the year 2000,” Haskins said. “I asked Anna Kinder (health department director) today, ‘Why is that?’ And she said because every year they are forced to beg you to give them a mailing list.”

Haskins encouraged the board to provide the list so parents in the county can “understand the things they don’t know.”

Trustee Mary Schmidt said one of the things she hopes to see and that the board can do quickly to help student behavioral health issues is revisit its cellphone policy and not allow phone us at all during school hours. She said students “have a lot coming at them” and their brain development cannot handle it.

“Our kids are being inundated with information that they are not physically and mentally prepared to have,” she said. “The phones are part of it, and I think that is a policy that we need to revisit because these things should not be accessible during the school day.”

Howie said a way to avoid another rough year is to continue to promote empathy and respect for others and for adults to model the behavior they want to see in their kids.

“One of my goals when I taught at Kelly Walsh was to help students learn to get along with each other, to solve problems with discussion and reason and I emphasized the term … empathy ‘walk a mile in my shoes,’” she said. “Try to feel what the other person is going through. You don’t have to agree with that person, but the differences between people don’t make them bad people. And some of that is where the bullying comes from.”

Dale Killingbeck can be reached at

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Dale Killingbeck


Killingbeck is glad to be back in journalism after working for 18 years in corporate communications with a health system in northern Michigan. He spent the previous 16 years working for newspapers in western Michigan in various roles.