The emotional toll of being bullied became evident when Dayree Stokes started losing her hair.
The 15-year-old McKinley High School freshman, once Latosha Abercrombie’s “happy-go-lucky child,” had lost her positive outlook by December.
Abercrombie recognized the bullying no longer was “girls being girls” when she came home to find Dayree on the floor crying hysterically and hyperventilating.
“This is affecting her grades, her health, her personality, her self-esteem. They really dug into her,” said Abercrombie, who blames bullying for her daughter’s grades falling from A’s and B’s to D’s and F’s. “Teachers are failing her because she is telling. They are not doing anything, then she gets harassed.”
The concept of bullies and their defenseless victims is as old as time. School districts are required to have policies aimed at punishing bullies and protecting victims. And Gov. John Kasich last week signed a bill that requires schools to update their bullying policies to include harassment and intimidation sent electronically. Yet some parents see bullying as an issue largely ignored.
The final straw came last month for Abercrombie. She said her other daughter, Marquala, a junior, was hit in the eye in class by an object thrown by a student. That student recently had returned from a 10-day suspension for throwing a plate at someone in the cafeteria.
Abercrombie said her daughter suffered a broken blood vessel in her eye and has blurred vision. She filed a police report, and the incident is under investigation.
Abercrombie contends her daughter’s injury never should have happened because the student should not have been permitted back at McKinley High School.
“Because of the nature of the first assault, he should not have been back at school. And (after the second incident), the police should have hauled his little butt to juvenile detention,” Abercrombie said.
Instead, he was sent to an in-school suspension room with other students, she said.
Marquala, said Abercrombie, was sexually harassed this year when two boys put their hands on her buttocks. She said McKinley Principal Deidre Stokes-Davis did not reprimand the boys, calling their actions “just horseplay.”
To take a stand, Abercrombie said, she kept Dayree and her sister home from school for six days. Each day they racked up unexcused absences, she waited to hear from someone who would address her concerns.
After making what she said were at least a dozen calls — to a school board member, the principal, the superintendent’s office and even to the mayor’s office — Abercrombie got what she wanted. Her girls were transferred to Timken High School.
“I’m passionate about what I believe in, and I believe the school system is portraying an image not true. And parents are afraid to speak up,” Abercrombie said.
THE OTHER SIDE
Stokes-Davis and former Superintendent Michele Evans do not see these incidents as bullying. Said Evans, “We take every incident very seriously. We have a thorough investigation, and it is documented.”
What some parents don’t see, Evans said, is that bullying is defined as something pervasive and persistent, not one incident.
Stokes-Davis said in the case of Dayree Stokes, no incidents of bullying were reported by the child, according to her counselor.
In the case of Marquala Stokes being sexually harassed, Stokes-Davis defended her assertion it was not harassment, but really two friends horseplaying on the stairs.
One boy slapped Marquala on the back of the leg. That boy was suspended, she said, because the slap left a mark on Marquala’s leg. He had a pattern of incidents, said Stokes-Davis, that required what may seem like a harsh punishment for simple horseplay.
“It was investigated. The daughter didn’t want the kid to get in trouble. Mom wanted him disciplined. She wanted to call it sexual harassment. There was no evidence of that,” Stokes-Davis said.
As far as the older daughter’s eye injury, Stokes-Davis said, there was no malicious intent. The boy in question threw paint chips into the air in art class.
“He was goofing off,” not trying to hurt the girl, she said.
Evans said the district allowed the girls to transfer because it was in their best interest, although it typically doesn’t allow midyear transfers.
“We don’t like transferring at any time in their high school careers,” Evans said, because courses at each school are different, and educators want students to pick a program at the end of eighth grade and follow it through.
Is it bullying or an altercation? If your child comes out on the losing end of a zero-tolerance policy, chances are good the school considers it the latter.
For Ken Kendall, Canton City Schools’ chief of safety and security, that’s a tough thing to explain to parents who believe their child is a victim of bullying.
“If someone pushes you, and you push them back, you’re going to get suspended, too. Because now, it’s a fight,” he said. “It’s called zero tolerance. We suspend both kids. It may not be fair, but that’s the way it is.”
When The Repository posed a question to readers via CantonRep.com, asking if their child is being bullied, we received several responses from parents who believe their children are being victimized twice — by the bully, then by the school.
Benjamin Prosser told his son to keep his mouth shut and “just try to get through the rest of the school year.”
Prosser, a single dad in the Canton City School District, believes his 13-year-old is being bullied at his middle school. The teen’s grades have suffered.
It was tough for Prosser to tell his son to keep his head down and not defend himself or verbally retaliate.
At almost 6 feet tall, his son is capable of defending himself. Not doing so, Prosser said, goes against everything Americans are taught to believe.
“We’ve always stood up to bullies — Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein. That’s what we do. That’s our motto. We’re just supposed to take it?”
The frustrated father thought early in January he had exhausted his options when it was suggested he take his son to an alternative school.
“No matter how you address it, they make you or your child out to be the bad guy,” he said, adding that he believes the teachers choose who to reprimand in an inconsistent manner.
For example, he said, his son received three days of out-of-school suspension for using a curse word at someone he felt was taunting him, while another child who said the same curse word in the presence of a teacher was not punished.
On Jan. 25, Prosser met with his son’s teachers, an assistant principal and a counselor. He was happy with the decision to separate his son from the boys he believes were the aggressors.
“Once you get everyone together and get them on the same page, it can be worked out,” he said. “Request a meeting of all involved.”
For Julie Hunter, unanswered questions and several email exchanges with Plain Local administrators led her to believe little is done for bullying victims.
Her son, then an eighth-grader at Glenwood Middle School, was bullied last spring to the point where he snapped, she said.
“He just exploded. He’s a gentle giant. He had a perfect record until then,” she said.
Her son, who punched an aggressor on a school bus, was given an out-of-school suspension and banned from the bus. She was able to have the latter punishment removed.
She said her bigger concern was that her son’s file contained no documentation he had been bullied all year by the same child. The child who bullied her son, though, had several incidents documented in his own file, she said.
Hunter was not satisfied with the response of adults involved. By speaking out, she hopes to see a change in policy.
“I want it mandated, if a child is picked on more than once, then that child is followed up on. And the bully should be followed up on,” she said.
Plain Local Superintendent Brent May said via email when the school system has a report of bullying, it is investigated and documented. Following the investigation, consequences are administered as needed.
While he would not discuss specific cases because of privacy, Oakwood Middle School had eight documented incidents of bullying last year, he said, and the district documented those in the victims’ files, as well as those of the bullies.
He said even if a physical paper is not in a child’s file, it exists electronically and will be a part of the student’s record as he or she progresses through school.
Hunter said her sixth-grader, too, is being bullied on the school bus and was suspended for fighting back. Through Facebook, she has connected with other parents who believe administrators are looking the other way when it comes to enforcing their bullying policies.
“With the suicide rate going up in children in this age group because of being bullied, they need to take this seriously, instead of treating it like it’s a nuisance they don’t care about,” she said.
May said the district has re-routed Hunter’s son’s bus in an effort to shorten his time on it and separate him from his tormentors.
Kendall, at Canton City Schools, said the parents of the victims often don’t know what punishment is given to their child’s bully due to privacy concerns.
He said forms go into the files of bullies, making it possible for courts to see if they have a pattern of aggression should they ever be charged with assault or other crimes.
What is bullying?
Ohio law requires school policies to use the following definition for “harassment, intimidation, or bullying.”
Any intentional written, verbal, or physical act that a student has exhibited toward another particular student more than once and the behavior both: (a) causes mental or physical harm to the other student; (b) is sufficiently severe, persistent, or pervasive it creates an intimidating, threatening, or abusive educational environment for the other student.
Source: Ohio Board of Education
Ohio Gov. John Kasich has signed an anti-bullying bill that requires schools to update policies to include harassment and intimidation sent electronically, such as over the Internet or mobile phones. Kasich signed the bill into law Feb 2.
Referred to as the Jessica Logan Act, the bill was named for a Cincinnati teenager who hanged herself in 2008 after weeks of bullying at her school.
Among other provisions, it says policies must be extended to school buses, that training must be available for staff and that parents are to receive an annual bullying policy statement.