Are schools doing enough to battle bullies?
Posted May 13, 2015
Zebulon, N.C. — On a regular basis, frustrated, worried parents email WRAL News to report that their child is being bullied. Universally, these parents believe their school systems aren't handling these cases as well as they should.
Every school system in North Carolina has a bullying policy: what it is, how it should be reported and investigated and how bullies should be punished. While school systems struggle to cope with the number of incidents, parents are asking for swifter relief for the victims and punishment for offenders.
Charter student pulled from school after bullying
Christopher Simmons, 11, a fifth-grader at Neuse Charter Elementary School in Smithfield, is a boxing champion with a whole pile of medals. He seemed an unlikely candidate to be bullied.
But then a friend told him he was the target of a "kill club."
"At first I kind of didn't care about it, but then it started hurting me," he said. "He (another student) said, 'There's a kill club and their mission is to kill you.'
"When he said the word 'kill,' yes, I do believe it," he added. Information, resources to battle bullying
Christopher's parents went to the principal to report the threats and other offenses, including a girl they say kicked, pinched and elbowed their son.
In a detailed email to WRAL News, Tanya Simmons, said another student told Christopher "they could just kill Christopher, leave his body in the bathroom, somebody else would find it and they would not know it was them."
Principal Sharon Johnson promised the Simmonses that she would address their complaints, but she didn't act quickly enough for them. They returned to the school a day later after their child told them nothing was done.
"The principal told us she wasn’t able to get to it because she was the only administrator on the campus," Tanya Simmons said.
Johnson sent a letter to fifth grade parents saying, in part, "Bullying will not be tolerated at Neuse and what some children consider 'playing around' can be seen as bullying."
Christopher's father, Chris Simmons, said, "I personally felt like they were trying to brush it up under the rug and kind of not deal with it."
Tony Gupton, chairman of the board of the Neuse Charter School, defended the school.
"We had a complaint brought to us. We addressed the complaint. Where necessary, student discipline was administered," he said.
Both parents disagreed.
"We wanted it investigated," Tanya Simmons said. "We called the police. I asked for that child to be expelled."
Smithfield Police looked into the claims but didn't find anything that rose to the level of a criminal offense.
Ultimately, the Simmonses decided the safest choice for Christopher would be for him to withdraw.
"No one wants to leave their school, but we have to make sure that he is safe," Chris Simmons said of his son.
"I would really like to see some type of legislation for charter schools for them to be held accountable."
A month to respond to bullying on the bus
For 8-year-old Joseph and his 6-year-old sister, Kassia, bullying happened on the school bus. A bigger boy pulled on Kassia's book bag and threatened the pair, said their mother, Dana Tedder.
Tedder repeatedly called Corinth Holders Elementary School in Zebulon and met with the vice principal.
"It just absolutely breaks your heart to know that your child's being picked on and bullied, and you're fighting tooth and nail to try and get help from the other adults in the situation," she said.
Tracey Peedin Jones, spokeswoman for the Johnston County Schools, agreed with Tedder's frustration.
"This is the most precious, precious thing that our parents have is their children. And we feel the same way," she said.
Peedin Jones cited the school district's Bullying And Harassment Policy and said district officials acted on Tedder's complaint.
"When it comes to our school administration, as soon as they are made aware of a situation, it is acted on promptly," she said. "And I can definitely say so in this situation."
Tedder disagreed. It took a month to get the boy who bothered her children moved to another seat on the bus, and she thinks that is too long.
"I pay my taxes," she said. "I expect my tax dollars are going to be used by people who are going to protect the children to the best of their ability, not just mine, but all the children."
Schools are serious about investigating bullying claims, using tools like video cameras – which were present on the Tedder children's bus – and online reporting which allows students to share concerns without going to the principal's office.
Peedin Jones also recommended that parents work with the school guidance counselor to help their kids navigate difficult situations.