Tired of her daughter coming home in tears, the mother of a Chesterfield County eighth-grader says she and dozens of other parents are banding together to deter bullying and make the county’s schools safer.
“It’s so bad, my daughter is afraid to go to school and get on the bus,” said Janice Dixon. “This is an issue, and if we don’t do something, I am afraid of what’s going to happen. This is a real issue.”
Dixon alleges her daughter has been put in a trash can and stuffed in a locker. She said she has met with teachers and administrators at the school — which The Cheraw Chronicle is not identifying in order to protect the student’s privacy — but claims the bullying has continued.
Chris Price, Chesterfield County Schools’ executive director of administration and student services, said there has been one bullying complaint at the school Dixon’s child attends and two complaints district-wide.
School officials said student privacy rules prevent them from discussing specific incidents.
VICTIMS FACE RETALIATION
Students who report bullying to teachers and administrators face reprisals from the bullies for trying to get them in trouble, Dixon said. When parents show up, she added, it gets worse.
“Then they are put right back into the environment,” Dixon said.
Dixon said she feels administrators are giving her the runaround and should be doing more to protect her child from bullying.
Her daughter is tormented at school, on the bus and now it is following her home through social media, Dixon said.
Blocking or deleting those bothering her does not solve the problem, Dixon explained. They create a new account or use someone else’s account on social networking sites.
PARENTS JOIN FORCES
Dixon said she and 93 other mothers in the county have joined together in an online group called Mothers Against Bullying in an effort to protect their children. She has come forward, but some of the others are not ready to publicly discuss what is going on.
Members say the group is not about them, it is about making the schools safe for their children.
“All of us parents and citizens need to stop this bullying before the students end up harming themselves or others,” Dixon said. “I’ve tried the school board and the schools and we are made to feel like it’s our children.”
Dixon said she fears what things will be like when her special-needs daughter has to attend a regular school and ride a regular bus. She also worries what may happen when her granddaughters start school.
“This is bigger than me, my daughters, or my grands,” Dixon said. “If we as a nation don’t start pulling together instead of warring against each other, our children or our children’s children will never learn what peace is.”
A CATCHALL COMPLAINT
School officials say they work to differentiate bullying — a pattern of harassment — from everyday disagreements between students or a single schoolyard putdown. Statistics on bullying are difficult to compile because of the many incidents to which students and parents apply the term.
“The issue we face is sometimes people use ‘bully’ if someone called their child a name,” Price said. “While this is something we would follow up on and handle appropriately, an isolated event like that is not bullying. We define bullying as repeated behavior toward the same person by the same person or persons.”
Bullying is typically handled through school discipline. Law enforcement can investigate claims of physical assault as a criminal offense, but hurtful words don’t rise to that level unless they contain threats of violence.
Federal courts are sharply divided on the legality of school punishment for off-campus speech on social media, since students are in their parents’ care and have First Amendment free-speech rights. Most social networks, including Facebook and Twitter, have tools for reporting online harassment. Bullies who persist can be permanently banned from the popular networks at the sites’ own discretion.
GRANT BATTLES BULLYING
The Chesterfield County School District is entering into a three-year, $2.4 million National Institute of Justice grant. It is designed to put mental health counselors at every school and will allow the schools to track anything that is considered bullying.
NIJ researchers from Clemson and Oregon universities will look at survey data from all students and teachers to assessthe prevalence of bullying at participating schools. The information will be compiled over a three-year period.
“We believe in being proactive instead of reactive to situations, and this partnership with the researchers of NIJ and our district will help us stay ahead of the curve as it relates to bully prevention and education,” Price said.
Bullying complaints are normally handled at the school level, Price explained. He encourages parents of students who are being bullied to bring their concerns to the principal or other administrators at their children’s school.
Reach Maria D. Grandy at 843-537-5261.