Bullying in District 51: Officials act amid concern by parents over incidents
Lee Allen’s daughter started getting picked on in seventh grade at Fruita Middle School.
It got so bad, Allen took her daughter out of the school and placed her in an online education program for the second half of seventh grade. The teenager wasn’t a fan of online school, so she decided to try eighth grade at Fruita 8/9 this year. The bullying resumed, her mother says.
“Some kid stepped up in her face and said, ‘You’re a Jew and I hate all the Jews and I’m going to kill you with my shotgun,’ ” Allen said.
Allen said she told school administrators about the threat and they had supportive words to share. But Allen said past experiences convinced her the school wouldn’t do enough to punish the boy, so she reported the incident to the Fruita Police Department and decided to press charges against him.
“I’d like to see an entire change of administration because they don’t do anything,” Allen said. “If they would clamp down on the problem kids, they wouldn’t have all this.”
Allen isn’t the only parent with concerns about how conflicts are handled at local schools. Just last month, a half-minute video of a 15-year-old girl being beaten by another girl in the Fruita 8/9 cafeteria surfaced. The girl’s mother, Carrie Thrall, told The Daily Sentinel she told administrators her daughter was targeted by the other girl for a week before the fight.
Cathy Haller, District 51’s prevention coordinator, said a district investigation appears to define the situation as a conflict instead of bullying. Ever since a School Board policy passed in August, the district has defined bullying as “any written or verbal expression, or physical or electronic act or gesture, or a pattern thereof, that is intended to coerce, intimidate, or cause any physical, mental, or emotional harm to any student.” Bullying also includes one person having or expressing power over the other.
Also starting this school year, District 51 schools are required to make anti-bullying brochures available to parents and follow a bullying/conflict resolution flowchart. The flowchart requires an adult at the school to investigate every conflict. If the conflict is “normal,” parents are notified and the conflict is mediated in some way. If the conflict is deemed bullying or harassment, an administrator investigates the incident, parents are notified and a number of other steps may be taken, including punishment for the bully based on the severity of the harassment, the start of a “no contact contract” between the students and follow-up counseling to see how the victim and the bully are doing after some time has passed.
If bullying persists, the flowchart allows schools to continue the above process and possibly involve law enforcement or enact a harsher punishment for the bully. Haller said bullies can face any punishment used in school discipline, up to expulsion, but the district is not allowed by law to inform parents or student victims how the bully was punished.
“We may well have dealt with it but the parent is not aware,” she said.
The process is not enough to deter bullies, according to parent Victoria Estrada. Estrada said her son, an eighth-grader at Redlands Middle School, has been bullied for two full years. She said she has visited with principals, counselors and just about every administrator she can think of, yet the bullying won’t stop. Her son has been removed from classes to try to avoid contact with bullies, but they still see him around school. His grades have dropped from perfect to failing, according to his mother.
“The consequence is they can go around being bullies. They make them apologize, then they back off for a few days and then they’re back at it,” Estrada said. “(Administrators) don’t realize what it’s doing to our child, our family.”
Haller said the district plans to collect input from a variety of students, including bullying victims, this spring to see how bullying procedures and prevention can be improved. Funding from the Mesa County Partnership for Children and Families and the Family and Adolescent Partnership will allow the district to gather groups of five to seven students at every District 51 school some time during the second quarter to discuss bullying. Students will participate in the focus groups at their schools during a lunch period, where they will get pizza and soda pop.
“We’ll ask pointed questions so I can compile the answers from a district level and give it to principals so they know where to go next,” Haller said.