Mother, son battle school bullying nightmare for years
Editor’s note: Because the mother interviewed wished to remain anonymous to protect her child from further bullying, we will call her Jane Smith and we will call her son Trey Smith in this story.
Trey Smith has hated school since kindergarten. The 5th-grade student told his parents that he likes in-school detention better than his classes because he doesn’t have to worry about other kids teasing him there. And he told his parents that he would rather die than attend school anymore.
His mother Jane, says that Trey is still being bullied despite new efforts made this year by Trey’s school.
“The (school’s) new bullying policy is allowing a better drawn out plan for the school to follow. However, bullying remains the same and will continue to remain the same until everyone takes action, and this means the parents, not just the school system,” Jane said.
Mary Lou Sumrall, director of special programs for the school district, said that the schools do as much as they can to prevent bullying, but that it is important for parents and students to step in as well.
“It really has to involve the community,” Sumrall said. “Most of the time when (bullying) happens it’s during the unstructured times like on the bus or on the way to class.”
Jane says Trey has been bullied for years.
“On a daily basis from kindergarten through 2nd grade, my child came home from school crying,” Jane said. “He would tell me he just wanted the kids at school to like him, but they were always mean to him. He would tell me that they call him names and they do not let him play with them for recess.
“I would ask him if he told his teachers and he told me that he did and they told him to find someone else to play with. This continued through 3rd grade.”
Jane said that teachers told her Trey was an “easy target” because he would show that his feelings were hurt when other children upset him.
By third grade, Trey’s grades had begun to slip and he began isolating himself from other children to avoid being teased. Jane said he was angry and would take his frustrations out at home.
“I could not talk to him anymore and I could tell that my 8-year-old was very depressed,” Jane said.
Trey started to see a counselor on a regular basis, a method that Sumrall said is often used in the school system.
“Our counselors are attempting to put a stop to bullying,” Sumrall said. “Every school is making a good faith effort.”
Despite counseling, the problems got worse at school. Then, Trey failed the LEAP test and had to repeat 4th grade.
“Fourth grade the second time around was a nightmare,” Jane said. “My child was taunted every day with threats, name calling and pushing.
“At one point, he told me he would rather be in in-school detention because at least the other kids leave him alone and he did not have to worry about bullies.”
Like many other times, Jane made a trip to the school to discuss the issue with Trey’s teachers and principal.
Trey began to see a counselor and attend group sessions with other boys who were victims of bullying. After an entire summer of counseling, Jane was optimistic that 5th grade would be a good year for Trey.
Unfortunately, this year started out like all of the others - Trey has been bullied from the first day of 5th grade despite a new bullying policy the schools implemented, says his mom.
The new policy includes newsletters to parents about bullying, parent conferences, school committees, counseling and teaching students how harmful bullying can be to their classmates.
Jane isn’t convinced that bullying in St. Charles schools is under control.
“My child told me he would rather die than go to school. He has had anxiety attacks and emotional break-downs because of these children,” she said. “I am worried every night…that when I get up in the morning, the first thing I will have to do is call 9-1-1. It breaks my heart to see the hurt my child endures and is continuing to endure.”
The concerned mom thinks that the only way to get the bullying under control is for parents to step up and help.
“The school system cannot do this alone…just as they cannot teach a child everything they need to know about life - the parent has to step in somewhere. (Schools) have to have parent support to put an end to bullying in St. Charles Parish,” Jane said.
Sumrall said that an estimated 5-7 percent of parish kids are victims of bullying, but that the parish’s bullying problem isn’t bad compared to national averages.
“It’s not bad unless you’re one of the kids that are being bullied at school - then it’s bad,” Sumrall said. “No kids should come to school scared.”
Parents of children being bullied need to contact the school, says Sumrall.
“They should call the counselor if their child says they’re being bullied because every counselor in St. Charles Parish is aware and concerned about this and we really want to reduce it.”
Sumrall said that parents should encourage students to talk to a school authority figure that they are comfortable with, such as a teacher, counselor or principal. If the student does not want to, the parent should discuss it with the school.
“It’s not going to get any better if we don’t know about it,” Sumrall said.
Jane agreed that parents need to “speak up” if their child is being bullied at school.
“Many of us stay quiet because our children beg us not to say anything because they are scared of retaliation,” Jane said. “Statistically, the majority of bullying that occurs is at age 12, my child is 11 and has been bullied since age 5.”
Sumrall said all of the schools have policies in place to prevent and deal with bullying.
At J.B. Martin and Harry Hurst middle schools, the district has been experimenting with a new method of bullying prevention called the Olweus Bully Prevention Program that they hope to expand to other parish schools.
The Olweus program focuses on empowering onlookers to step in if they see other kids being bullied and it teaches teachers and staff how to effectively and immediately stop and deal with any bullying they witness.
Sumrall said the Olweus program has been very successful at the two schools because it is more of a proactive change to the kids’ cultural system and gets everyone in the school involved, from kids and parents to teachers and custodians.
“We will never eradicate bullying completely, but the school system is really working hard to reduce bullying,” Sumrall said.
Earlier this year, the school district paid for Sumrall and one of her colleagues to become certified trainers in the Olweus system, a cost of about $4,500 to the district after Sumrall received grants to offset some of the cost.
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