Athens Review, Athens, Texas

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April 7, 2008

AISD investigates alleged beating

Father: 8th-grade daughter’s project about illegal immigration sparked attack by 21 students

An Athens Middle School student is alleging she was attacked and beaten last week by 21 fellow students in response to a project for her history class regarding illegal immigration.

Melanie Bowers, a 13-year-old eighth grader, arrived at school last Monday, March 31, with her U.S. History project — an 8 1/2 x 11 “protest sign” — that reads, “If you love your nation, stop illegal immigration.”

Students were asked to create “protest signs” dealing with a past issue and a current one by history teacher Janet Skelton.

According to Bowers’ father, J.R. Bowers, Melanie was attacked in a hallway by a group of students on Friday because of the political message contained on the poster. Mr. Bowers said the attackers slammed her head into a brick wall and scraped her face down the side of the wall. The girl’s grandmother, Layne Wilhoite, told the Athens Review in a statement sent Monday that the group attempted to drag Melanie into a restroom and threatened to “rape and kill” her.

No teachers have come forward saying they witnessed the incident, according to Athens Independent School District Superintendent Dr. Fred Hayes.

After the incident, Mr. Bowers said his daughter told him she attempted to use an office phone to call him. Hayes said Assistant Principal Mark Castleberry looked her over and “did not see anything wrong with her.” Castleberry did not allow her to use the phone, and she eventually used her cell phone to inform her parents she had been attacked.

Melanie did not attend school Monday. Shera Bowers, her mother, said her daughter was checked out by a paramedic Saturday. She suffered a swollen face, various scratches and bruises.

“I’m upset that this happened to my daughter, and that she wasn’t allowed to call us,” Bowers said.

Hayes said the investigation into the alleged incident is ongoing.

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