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Typical teen behavior or bullying?

A 14-year-old mid-Missouri student and his family are speaking out about a case of bullying, saying their school is not handling it correctly.

Jimmy Oswald, a freshman at Otterville High School in Cooper County, suffered a neck strain after being attacked by another student in class. But both boys received the same punishment.

That’s when Jimmy’s family cried foul, but the school said it was just following procedures. Was it bullying, an assault or just a fight among teenagers?

In a Special Report, ABC 17’s Jillian Fertig looked into what the state requires when physical violence happens in schools and whether this case was handled properly.

“I walked into class and we hadn’t been in class for maybe two or three minutes,” Jimmy Oswald told ABC 17 News. “I was just sitting around talking with my friend. The next moment I know, I just have someone come up around me and put me in a choke hold. He jerked me up out of my seat and slammed me to the ground.”

That was on January 29.

Jimmy said he was talking with his friend when another student heard him say something that he thought was directed at him.

That’s when the student put Jimmy in a head lock, but the school said Jimmy provoked the other student by what he said, so both boys were sent home early from school.

“I got a phone call from the principal’s office saying that Jimmy and another student had been mouthing each other and he needed to be picked up from school,” said Darlene Kramer, Jimmy’s mother. “She failed to tell me he had been attacked from behind.”

“The next day, my neck started hurting more,” Jimmy told ABC 17 News.

That’s when Darlene Kramer tells me she took her son to the doctor.

According to medical records dated January 30, one day after the incident, the doctor diagnosed Jimmy with “cervical spine strain” and made him wear a neck brace.

When Jimmy returned to school, he was put in in-school suspension as punishment for the incident–the same punishment given to the student who attacked him.

“This is not a jail where they break out and have riots,” Kramer said. “It’s a school where they’re sent to learn. And there should be zero tolerance for this kind of behavior.”

ABC 17’s Jillian Fertig reached out to the school multiple times via email and phone over the last few weeks.

After her fourth attempt to reach the school, Otterville Schools Superintendent Matt Unger called Fertig and talked about the situation.

He acknowledged what happened, but said it was a minor incident and did not violate the Missouri Safe School’s Act.

Otterville, like many other schools in Missouri, has an agreement with police that third degree assaults can be handled internally, to keep from clogging up the courts.

According to the agreement, third degree assaults are reported to law enforcement only after considering the following:

1. The age and maturity of the student involved.

2. Whether the incident involved the use of or threatened use of a weapon or involved sexual misconduct or allegations of sexual assault.

3. The nature and severity of the conduct.

4. The nature and severity of injury, if any, inflicted on the other person involved.

To find out more information about how incidents like this are handled under the Missouri Safe School’s Act, Fertig talked with Paul Fennewald, the director of the Missouri Center for Education Safety.

“The Safe School’s Act has some specific reporting requirements, and things like assaults, if it’s an assault in the first degree or the second degree, there’s requirement that if the teacher becomes aware of it, he has to report that to the principal,” Fennewald said. “If the principal becomes aware of it, he has to report that to law enforcement and he has to report that to the superintendent.”

He said third degree assaults are handled differently. If the school has an agreement with police, like Otterville does, then the school uses its discretion on how it’s handled based on the severity of the incident.

“Rather than clog up the court system and give a young person a criminal record, if you would, or some type of law enforcement record, rather than that, they let the school adjudicate that with maybe in-school suspension,” Fennewald said.

While the school said it followed these guidelines properly, Jimmy’s family disagrees. They said the situation is more serious.

“It just escalates,” said Denis Kramer, Jimmy’s stepfather. “And who’s to say what the next person is going to do? Is it going to be kind of like this or is going to be worse?”

Jimmy said he isn’t afraid to got to school, but he said he’s worried and doesn’t want this to happen to anyone else.

“What’s going to happen next time?” Jimmy said. “Like somebody accidentally says something he don’t like? If he does that again and doesn’t know what he’s doing, he could snap their neck or paralyze them.”

Fertig also talked to the Otterville Police Chief, who said he believes the school handled everything the right way.

He said if anything happens that is serious, the police department is always there to step in.

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