JAMESTOWN – More than a dozen people addressed the Jamestown School Board on Tuesday night as the issue of bullying took center stage.
Community members were on hand to address the issue in the wake of two recent suicides in the community, one that involved a 13-year-old student and another that involved a recent graduate of Jamestown High School. Both incidents were blamed on chronic bullying.
One of those who spoke was the aunt of the 14-year-old student who recently attempted to take her own life, was hospitalized, and eventually died due to complications connected to the incident. She said it was brought on by relentless bullying both inside and outside of school.
“I just had to bury my 14-year-old niece, that’s been more like more daughter the last 10 years,” the aunt said. “I think the school board maybe needs to do more to punish these children that are doing the bullying. I have tons of evidence that has been sent to me the past week from the kids who attacked her over social media. They had been relentless with it.”
The aunt also said that the school district needs to do more to punish those who bully other students in order to prevent other incidents from taking place.
“I don’t know if she brought anything to the attention of the school, but she probably felt the only way to get away from them was to end her life, which is not fair to me and not fair to her 10-year-old sister that is here,” the aunt said. “It’s not fair to my parents or any of my family that we have to struggle daily and go through the pain of realizing that she’s not coming home. I just would like to see something more done with these kids than just being suspended, because that’s not enough.”
Another parent who spoke said her junior high school daughter is also being bullied both at school an online, through the use of an anonymous mobile app that kids are using on their phones. She said that when she tried to bring it to the attention of the principal at Washington School, she was instead referred to a guidance counselor.
“These issues shouldn’t just be brought to the counselors. It’s a school issue,” she said. “Parents need to be at an assembly with their children. There’s too many people letting their kids sit and be on their phone all day, every day. We need to have some kind of awareness, letting parents know they should let those kids have time out. They don’t need technology all day, every day.”
And yet another parent, Katina Glenn, who lost her daughter to suicide a couple years ago, said she urged Jamestown High School to have an assembly to address the issue, but that never happened.
“I came here last year to talk with JHS principal Dr. McElrath about doing an assembly on suicide awareness and prevention and it kind of got pushed aside due to, I feel, Jamestown football. And no offense to Jamestown football, but there’s more important things in the community that need to be addressed, which is bullying, domestic violence, suicide awareness, and prevention and it should be in the schools at all times, not just once a year,” Glenn said.
Several others who spoke, including former students who recently graduated, shared their own personal accounts of bullying at Jamestown.
Following the comments, School board president Paul Abbott and school superintendent Bret Apthorpe both thanked those who spoke and said the district will be looking into ways to address the bullying issue and provide a safe place for all students.
Abbott also admitted that it may be a challenge to try and enforce any type of policy regarding the use of technology like mobile phone apps to bully another students, it is something the district will be looking into.
“I’m very naive as to how to get after something like that but this is something that Dr. Apthorpe and I have had a number of conversations about in the last few weeks, as well as other school board members,” Abbott said. “Whether it is this or any issue, when it comes to student safety and the safety of our staff, there is nothing that is more important to us.”
Apthorpe echoed Abbott’s sentiments and said that the district will be looking into ways to reduce bullying.
“This is one of those things where if it was something we could fix, like a roof or window or a building, we’d fix it and we’d fix it in spades. I think these testimonials today give us the soul food for us to continue our work around student safety,” Apthorpe said. “Our principals and directors got together and are trying to figure out how to systemically reach out to kids and have them report bullying in an anonymous fashion.”
Apthorpe also said that one of the steps that has been taken is the creation of an online form to better help students report bullying as part of the districts effort to be in compliance with the state’s Dignity for All Students Act (DASA), which includes a phone line that allows students and parents to report bullying incidents anonymously at each school in the district.
“This is anonymous place for kids or adults to report bullying. What I like about this is, over the short-run, is I see it and the principals see it… We can see how many complaints are being submitted but more importantly, we can see if there if follow up to it,” Apthorpe said. “I feel good about this because I know I can hold people accountable to make sure a caring adult has connected with a child, and that’s a first start. It was rolled out last week… There’s an enormous amount of work here to do. I’ll certainly get back to the board on the reporting that we have. We have a lot to do on this topic for sure.”