Mom fed up with bullying goes public

Bullying can be tough to define and even more of a challenge to prove.

Though admonished under public school policy, bullying can be a “she said-she said” type of situation. That’s why a Warren County mother has sought help outside the public school system for her eighth grade daughter, who has made regular reports of bullying to Warren County High School since last August.

“My daughter has been bullied for, like, three years,” said the mother, who asked not to be named.

Once a straight-A student, her daughter’s grades have fallen. An active member of the school chorus, she is now afraid to go to school.

“My daughter doesn’t feel safe being at school,” the mother said.

Her daughter’s classmates have spit in her face and hit her. They’ve “body slammed” her into walls. After the girl fractured her arm outside of school, her bullies repeatedly hit her injured arm.

The high school advised her to report these incidents and others like it, but until recently, the mother said she had not noticed a difference in her daughter’s school experience.

Since reporting the situation to the Warren County Sheriff’s Office on May 18, she said the physical altercations have stopped, but verbal assaults have not.

The other girls still call her daughter “whore,” “slut” and said “I’ll whip your ass,” the mother recalled her daughter telling her.

“They’re relentless,” she said.

Blurred Lines

Bullying is a term that gets thrown around a lot, said Michael Hirsch, director of Special Services for Warren County Public Schools.

“Kids are mean and kids do things that are inappropriate,” he said. Each time there’s a complaint of bullying, he said schools look to their definition to make sure it fits what happened before proceeding with corrective action against bullies and their victims.

Bullying is forbidden under section 7 of the student section of the division-wide policy manual, posted on the district website,  http://tiny.cc/5rqazx.

“‘Bullying means any aggressive and unwanted behavior that is intended to harm, intimidate, or humiliate the victim; involves a real or perceived power imbalance between the aggressor or aggressors and victim; and is repeated over time or causes severe emotional trauma,” the policy reads.

Similar policy forbids profane, obscene or abusive language under section 4, threats or intimidation under section 5, assault and battery under section 6 and harassment under section 19.

“Assault includes any physical confrontation that may result in no injury, minor injury, or serious injury that includes, but may not be limited to, kicking, shoving, pushing, hitting and fighting,” the policy reads. “Battery is the unlawful application of force to the person of another.”

Deputy Jeremy Seabright, a Warren County High School resource officer through the Warren County Sheriff’s Office, said he investigates cases that cross his desk and talks with all parties involved. But he said the school usually attempts its own resolutions before contacting him, and if staff, students or parents don’t contact him directly, he doesn’t get involved.

Even when involved, he said it’s often a victim’s word against a bully’s.

In the 2014-15 school year, he said one case of bullying at the school was successfully resolved.

“It was a pretty clear-cut case,” he said.

In cases of cyber bullying, he said it’s particularly important for victims to save texts, emails and screen shots of verbal or visual forms of harassment to help prove their case.

“Don’t ever erase it,” he said. “Without actually seeing it, there’s not really a whole lot we can do.”

Though he said he could not speak on the case of the Warren County mother and her daughter and could not confirm they talked with the school, Seabright said, “I’ve talked to the mother and the daughter.”

Since talking with Seabright, the mother said one of her daughter’s accused bullies was suspended for the last two weeks of school. The other four, she said, received in-school suspension.

“I was trying to let the school take care of the problem,” she said. “[But] I have been stressed to the max on this.”

“I had enough, something needs to be done, and they won’t take care of the problem.”

Going forward

Bullying prevention programs include the district’s Safe School Ambassadors, Megan’s Pledge, Stand for the Silent and a start of year Expectations Assembly.

A SCARE program is in place as needed for students who need remediation or counseling for anger or violent behavior.

At the middle school level, teachers meet in teams throughout the year with students to discuss bullying, and school clubs promote a Check it at the Door Campaign to keep intolerance and bad attitudes out of school activities.

Hirsch said schools also partner with the Warren Coalition on seminars that teach middle and high school students about cyber bullying and elementary school children how they might cope with being bullied.

“It’s really embedded in everything that we do now,” Hirsch said. “Everything we do is about character.”

“We don’t take allegations of bullying or bullying lightly at all,” he said. When there are allegations, he said, “We definitely use increased adult presence.”

Calls to the high school over a two-week period were not returned, but Greg Drescher, assistant superintendent for instruction, responded to an emailed request for information.

“In this particular case, I can say that anytime an issue or problem was brought to the administration’s attention it was dealt with immediately, following our policies and what was in the best interest of the students involved,” he wrote. “Any more than that is difficult to share.”

Generally speaking, he continued, “Accusations of bullying or harassment are always taken seriously. Students and staff are interviewed, video is reviewed if available and based on the evidence discovered appropriate action is taken.

“Generally, once administration gets involved with a situation, the issue is solved,” he wrote. “However there are times that disagreements and other actions between students are more difficult to solve.

“In these cases ‘no contact agreements’ are drawn up, mediation is held, and even adult escorts are assigned to students. In extreme situations suspensions are administered, law enforcement gets involved and the court system is used.”

The last day of school was Thursday, and the mother said before she contacted the Sheriff’s Office, administrators gave her daughter permission to leave early for the year after completing her Standards of Learning tests.

“That’s not a solution,” she said. “To me that’s punishing my child, ’cause she does generally love school.”

She said her reasons for speaking out about her daughter’s experience stem from a desire to caution others against the threat that bullying continues to have in schools.

Recalling national accounts of bullying that ended tragically, she said, “I’m not letting my child be one of those children.”

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com