NORTH LEWISBURG – Triad Local Schools parents and community members confronted school board members and administrators Monday, seeking answers on what the district is doing to combat bullying.
The questions follow the apparent suicide of an 11-year-old student last week. Community members and those who are friends with the family said it was prompted by unaddressed bullying of the student, and wanted to know more about what the district is doing to deal with the issue.
“Bullying has been an issue for years,” Russ Penhorwood told the school board. “Bullying will never go away, but I want to make sure we can find some way to control it.”
District Superintendent Chris Piper said while he could not speak to any specific incidents with students citing privacy laws, he noted the district has a plan in place to address bullying and other issues, and wants parent and community input on what more it can do.
Piper told meeting attendees a couple of years ago, the district had an anti-bullying program during school and hosted a meeting for the community that evening, but only two individuals showed up.
“We need partners in this fight all of the time, not just when terrible things happen,” he said.
The dozen or so community members and parents wanted more than vague assurances, however.
“This was preventable. This 11-year-old girl thought her life wasn’t viable enough because she was being made fun of,” said Bill Farmer, a friend of the family. “What was done? Why weren’t parents alerted?”
Parents said kids know where cameras are that would capture any bullying evidence, and know how to avoid teachers and other personnel when bullying others.
Penhorwood added he thought parents should have been informed of any bullying problems before they led to a student taking their own life.
The district sent a letter home to parents that detailed the district’s efforts to help students and staff deal with the loss, which included information about detecting signs of depression or other disorders that could lead to suicide. It included suicide warning signs and contact information for community mental health resources. It did not mention bullying.
The district did provide counselors for students and staff, and was assisted by neighboring school districts with the response.
Piper said there were 20 reports of bullying in the district last year. He said the district has policies in place to deal with bullying, and consequences for those acts vary based on the type of bullying and the severity. When there is a report of bullying, it is recorded and tracked. In the past couple of years, the district has brought in a new guidance counselor at the middle school to help address the educational part of keeping a safe and positive school environment.
Piper added to all the parents he wanted to speak with all of them to look at the district’s current policies and see if there are any suggestions for additions to help with the problem.
Casey S. Elliott may be reached at 937-652-1331 ext. 1772 or on Twitter @UDCElliott.