Randy Duke, a 20-year law enforcement vet, only has a few weeks to spend with his family before heading back to Afghanistan to train police officers, and he definitely didn't plan on spending most of it outside his son's school holding a sign saying "Bullying Victims are Punished Here."
But after Max, 13, was suspended for standing up to a bully and defending a special needs student, Duke felt he had no choice.
According to Duke, Max had long been a victim of the same bully, and finally snapped two weeks ago when the eighth grader destroyed an expert paper plane the teen had made for a special needs classmate.
"So Max just looked up and said, ‘What the hell?' and this guy shoved him," Duke told KHOU. "Max had had enough. And that just snapped him, and he shoved back and they started into it."
The punishment handed down by officials at Cade Middle School was severe: A two-day suspension, 30 days at an alternative school, and a ban on joining the high school band when they marched during football games.
The last one hit hardest, as Duke credits the band with helping his son open up. "After years of bullying, he had closed into a shell," Duke said. "This started bringing him out of his shell."
So Duke spent a few hours every day outside the middle school with his signs, protesting the decision.
All the attention and press eventually paid off: Following a meeting with school officials and two phone calls made by Duke's wife Wendy, the school agreed to reenroll Max and allow him to march with the band if Duke agreed to retract his complaint.
With his son's plight now in the rearview, Duke hasn't lost sight of the fact that this a much larger problem than any one child.
With only two weeks left before he has to return to Afghanistan for a whole year, Duke has already taken charge of organizing community meetings to raise awareness, and has even convinced school representatives to attend.
"I'm hoping to plant the seed in the community," he told ABC News. "And I hope community leaders will step up and roll with it."
[screengrab via Victoria Advocate]