Family members bring bullying concerns to board

EAST LIVERPOOL – With school shootings, and now stabbings, in the headlines, family members of students in the city school district brought their concerns about bullying to the board of education Monday night.

Speaking on behalf of his niece, who lives with him, Tom Lovett said she has been bullied for months, having had her head smashed into a bus window, been pushed and called names.

“Nothing has been done,” Lovett told the board, saying he has spoken to Westgate Principal Carole Sutton, but now his phone calls go unreturned.

“My niece goes around school scared. (The bullying) is daily,” he told board members.

Asked if he is his niece’s legal guardian by board member Bob Estell, Lovett said he is not, prompting Estell to speculate that may be why he is not being contacted by school personnel.

With obvious emotion, Chrissy Jones spoke about her daughter, who she said tried to take her own life due to being bullied via Facebook.

Jones said that, while school officials have been working with her this year, her daughter wants to be home schooled and said, “Kids should not have to be scared to go to school. With kids being shot at school, that’s the first thing that goes through (parents’) minds: Worry for their kids.”

Jones said the school needs to implement an anti-bullying campaign.

Parent Heather Potts said her son attends school at Westgate and, on April 9, was the victim of a beating by three boys in the gym while a fourth boy videoed the assault.

This, she said, was after she had called the school numerous times previously about bullying incidents, during which Sutton assured her she would take care of the problem.

“But, here I am today,” Potts said, noting she is in the process of filing legal charges against the boys involved in her son’s assault.

She said her son is an A-B student but that is changing due to the bullying and said, “I wish you could have seen the video and how horrible an act it was.”

The “main culprit” in the alleged attack has bullied her son in the past, according to Potts who said she was advised her son could come to school early to avoid the other boys.

“My son shouldn’t have to come in early. Two of those kids are in school today and were supposed to be suspended. My son swung back and got suspended one day. What are you supposed to do when you’re attacked by three kids?” Potts asked.

Superintendent James Herring was asked prior to the meeting about the bullying issue and whether it is more prevalent in the city school district than elsewhere, and he said he doesn’t believe it is.

“It’s no worse here than any place else,” Herring said, adding that the board has in place a policy to deal with such actions which includes certain steps that must be taken to aid in investigating them.

Part of that process includes completing forms pertaining to the event, parties involved and the like.

He estimated that 75 percent of the bullying issues he hears of in the district start on Facebook or through texting, and he said parents need to be aware of that, suggesting that, if their child is being bullied or bullying someone else via those mediums, they cancel their Facebook accounts and texting capabilities.

Verbal bullying is also difficult to prove, according to Herring, who said both parties often can get others to back them up, so it is hard to determine who is telling the truth.

Unfortunately, it is a “little easier to prove when we see fists flying,” he admitted.

This year, Herring said he knows of just four documented bullying incidents in the district.

Apparently in preparation for last night’s board meeting, Sutton sent an email to Herring and the board earlier in the day, outlining the procedures followed at Westgate when bullying accusations are made.

She said students are encouraged to be self-advocates, problem solvers and positive role models but, when a problem arises, they are encouraged to inform the closest adult, whether that be a teacher, custodian, aide, counselor or her.

The adult is then required to respond and “problem solve” with the student immediately, Sutton said, adding that students are then referred to the guidance counselor who “may” complete a problem solve between the students, notifying the teachers and parents. After this, students are asked if they want to make a formal report.

Students or teachers who report repeated student conflicts not resolved by the guidance counselor are referred to Sutton, who encourages initiation of a formal bullying investigation.

“As a parent and an administrator, I take bullying very seriously. The Westgate staff is diligent about investigating every known report,” she said, also saying there have been four official bullying investigations completed and discipline meted out to offenders.

Although the board took no action, board member Brian Allen said it seemed board policy and Sutton’s plan of action are contradictory in regard to reporting bullying events, saying, “I think we have a failure to communicate that we need to sit down and work out.”

Herring said the reporting form varies from building to building but once the data is received, fact finding takes place to determine what happened.