By Jane Hayes
A young mother sits before me with heartfelt anguish and tears over the mistreatment of her young daughter. Another says she was forced to take medical leave rather than lose her job as a result of her bullying principal. Yet another has been told that her daughter would be denied a transfer to another middle school, which could potentially shield her from the mean girls she’s encountered.
What does each share? Figurative and literal scars from bullying have blemished all of them, as well as their children. To preempt bullying from happening to her young daughter, one mother has taken pro-active classes on bullying through RVC (Rock Valley College) to arm her little girl with tactics on standing up to bullies.
Many of us have encountered bullying somewhere along the path of human experiences, but when a school district condones or overlooks it, repercussions beyond belief occur to the fragile formation of children’s character and sense of security because as adults, we are supposed to protect them from violence in the home and school.
Monica Rodriguez has watched her little girl, Makayla, make every effort to avoid bullying at Riverdahl Elementary School in District 205, until she finally had her stay home from school to protect her. Because of poor leadership at Riverdahl, the parents and staff there have registered several complaints without any recourse or reprimand of the principal by the district.
Mrs. Rodriguez started a petition on Facebook to Stop the Bullying in District 205 in hopes of being heard. She also formed a protest at the school district Administration Building on Seventh Street June 5 because no one listened to her concerns. I sat across the street at Katie’s Cup and interviewed all these parents to give them an open mike to express their concerns. (The board meetings only allow 2 minutes to express themselves.) Channel 23 and 17/39 both sent news crews to the scene also.
During the protest on Thursday, another parent entered the district office to file a six-page complaint when no one from the board office returned her calls or responded to her pleas against bullying. No conscientious parent can silently overlook the pain in their child’s eyes when this happens.
Yet another concerned parent’s efforts to change the direction of bullying by going to the leadership team of her daughter’s middle school was met with skepticism by the administrator, who asked, “Do you really think your daughter is that afraid?” Da? Is he a parent? Does he have a conscience? Or is he just doing his duty so his job is not at risk? When the teen with her friend went to the office to report the bullying directly to the principal, they were met with this disregard, “If you continue to make such accusations and complaints, you two will be suspended!”
Looking for logical solutions after her honor roll daughter endured Facebook threats of violence with a weapon by the bully and her mother, the victim’s mother went again to the offending principal to plead for a transfer, which was denied.
“School is supposed to be a sanctuary where they (my children) are safe; but obviously, it is just the opposite in this district and goes unreported and unaddressed,” the parent said.
After numerous pleas to teachers, administrators and district officials, the mother is considering all options for her four children. What options are there for beleaguered parents just trying to protect their children while at school? First, the parent had requested a transfer, but unfortunately, such a solution was denied by the principal. Second, private and parochial schools are too costly and prohibitive to her.
She has three other children who will be impacted by her decision to stay or leave District 205. So third, she has considered home schooling all her children in the future. A referral to the police is another option! If the district is tampering with the number of incidents throughout this district — as I believe — of course, they do not want it reported to the police, because they do not even acknowledge the existence of the problem on the building or district level!
In the District 205 Student Code of Conduct booklet for 2013-2014, Bullying is defined as hazing or any kind of aggressive behavior designed to cause psychological harm to another or any urging of others to engage in such conduct including the use of violence, force, noise, coercion, fear or other comparable conduct. Mandatory corrective strategies are: contact to inform parents of accusation and status of investigation and school level investigation and student conference. However, when the leadership of a school or school district minimizes this and does nothing, what recourse is there?
When my son was bullied at West 10 years ago, concerned teachers made sure he was safely guided through the halls to his destination, so I know teachers were reliable and served in my absence to make a profound difference. As a teacher myself, I have always stood against this cowardly tactic and still do when the district is just as guilty in overlooking the process.
In conclusion, I would suggest Monica and the other women I interviewed during the protest continue their efforts, because there is a momentum established. Since her pleas and concerns have fallen on deaf ears, another option is to file a lawsuit against this calloused district because of inadequate and deleterious leadership.
Some schools have dealt so poorly with this injustice throughout District 205 and need to be exposed because of it. West and Flinn middle schools, and Brookview, Conklin, Johnson and Riverdahl elementary schools have been notorious for not protecting their young charges and have been reported numerous times to Watchdogs for Ethics in Education and the Facebook (“watchthecorruption”) site.
Unfortunately, this problem is just as serious with the adults bullying other adults throughout this district, which I will address in another column. Teachers, stand up to violence and bullying to protect you, other staff members and especially your students.
Another column is calling my name … the violence throughout this district is abominable. Did you know that at least 15 students were arrested at Guilford High School in May after teachers reported the burgeoning problem to Matt Vosberg, who did NOT work with staff to remove the students from the building after the completion of standardized testing. Again, the district does not want you to know the true magnitude of the problem of violence to students and staff, and it will continue to minimize the immense problems.
No conscientious parent, staff member or community member should look aside when a 12-year-old Waukesha, Wis., girl was stabbed repeatedly by those who tried to kill her in the woods. This senseless violence was to appease a fictitious spirit called the slender man on the Internet. Are we just waiting for such a tragic event to occur within our midst in Rockford, or are we pro-active and going to stand up to bullying on all levels?
Let’s hope common sense, citizenship and decency prevail to prevent any more tragedies!
Jane Hayes is a member of Watchdogs for Ethics in Education (WEE) and Rockford Educators Advocating Civil Treatment (REACT).
Sites to consider:
From the June 11-17, 2014, issue