push parents to pull daughter from school
December 01, 2010 - According to district policy, bullying is prohibited in Clarkston schools. That's small solace for one student.
"Having to put up with it every day made me feel so sad – my grades suffered, I couldn't keep up, it made me feel like I was a failure, like I was stupid," said the 13-year-old Independence Township girl.
The girl, who will not be identified, was a student at Clarkston Junior High School until just before Thanksgiving break, when her parents pulled her out of the district to be homeschooled.
Clarkston Superintendent Dr. Rod Rock and Clarkston Junior High Principal Adam Kern declined a request for interview, but forwarded a statement regarding bullying in Clarkston Community Schools' policy manual
"The Board of Education is committed to providing a safe, positive, productive, and nurturing educational environment for all of its students," according to the manual. "Aggressive behavior toward a student, whether by other students, staff, or third parties is strictly prohibited and will not be tolerated."
However, the 13-year-old student said she faced frequent bullying from individuals, as well as witnessed several instances of students yelling, swearing, and punching at each other, and large groups of students walking down hallways, "like a football team," pushing students out of the way.
"I've been smashed into a locker twice this year," she said. "It's really demeaning to the kids who don't have a pack, including me. I don't think you have to travel in a pack."
Her parents, who noticed a problem the first week of school this year, traded emails and met with administrators to discuss the issue.
"I don't blame the school – they have too many fish to fry," her father said. "Everyday, it's something else. It's like playing 'whack-a -mole.'"
Requests for comment were sent to all seven Clarkston School Board members. Board President Steve Hyer responded, Nov. 11.
"We have not been informed of an increase in bullying," Hyer said. "We have dealt with this issue very seriously through our prior policy decisions. Our administration continues to work on this issue on a daily basis."
The students' parents forwarded to the News an email exchange they had with Kern.
"We have seen an increase in bullying this year," said Kern in a Nov. 4 email. "I am not sure of exactly what all of the factors are, but I know that it is occurring. The unfortunate thing is that by the time we are hearing about it, it has already been going on for a couple of weeks, and the student has been dealing with it the whole time. We deal with each bullying situation as soon as we here about it, and are constantly working at lessening it in our hallways."
The student's father confirmed measures have been taken, including more dress code enforcement, and stronger presence by teachers and administrators in school hallways and outside at the beginning and end of classes. Also, a strict ban on student backpacks and bags is enforced between classes.
According to the student's account, there's still a problem.
"Teachers are in the hallway, but they talk to other teachers," she said. "Kids crowd around doorways. I'm trying to get into my science class. I say, 'please move,' and they tell me to go away. I say, 'I need to get into class so I'm not late,' and they say, 'who are you to tell me what to do.'"
Other factors affecting the student include increased workload of junior high, especially with the trimester system, school overpopulation, and an illness earlier this year during which she missed some school.
"It's the sum total of everything," said her father. "Every kid hates school sometimes, but most of them like school, or at least it's not torture. It was torture for her."
"It shouldn't be that way, but it is," said his daughter, sitting at her kitchen table, knees drawn up to her chin. "I'm afraid for the rest of the kids there."
She sees herself as a normal, average student, but one of many falling through the cracks.
"They have IB for the smarter kids, but don't have anything for the kids not in the top 20 percent," she said. "It really does suck."
Classmates have asked her how they can be homeschooled too, she said.
"A lot are asking me about it," she said. "It's really sad for kids to be afraid of school."
Right now, she just wants to get through school, graduate, and get a job, she said.
"That's what school's supposed to be about," she said. "It's turned into hell. I don't want to say that. I don't like going to school anymore, being bullied and the impossible workload. I used to like school."
In response to a growing nationwide problem of bullying, and suicide resulting from it, the group We Will Light Your Path - You Are not Alone calls for candlelight vigils all across the country, 7 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 4.
Locally, Nancy McLernon of Clarkston is organizing a vigil at Depot Park. Clarkston City Council approved use of the park at its Nov. 22 meeting.
"Hopefully it will let those students who are dealing with being bullied, know that there are many individuals they can turn to in their communities," said McLernon, a social worker and member of the Michigan chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
"We are asking students, parents, and all concerned citizens to attend and show your commitment to those being bullied and compassion for those students who have felt so desperate and alone they have taken their lives by suicide."
She invites youth groups, student councils, athletic teams, and all who will show a commitment to stop bullying to come to Depot Park with candles and posters.
We Will Light Your Path, founded nationally by social activist Jen Dugan, works with American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE) to organize the vigils.
For more information on bullying, check www.stopbullyingnow.hrsa.gov. For info on the vigil, check wewilllightyourpath.org.
In a crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-TALK, 800-273-8255, a confidential source of help available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and staffed by trained phone counselors.
Signs of bullying
Feelings of isolation and sadness
Not wanting to go to school
Mood swings, hangs head, avoids eye contact, talks about running away
Threatens violence to self or others
Unexplained bruises, cuts, scratches
Damaged, missing clothing, belongings
Few friends, nervousness about school,
or walking to and from school
Frequent unexplained stomachaches, headaches, other physical symptoms
Sleep disturbances and/or nightmares
Low self-esteem, loss of appetite
Characteristics of a bully
Often seeks to control and dominate others
Enjoys feelings of power and control
Good at hiding behaviors from adults
Quick to anger, excited by conflict
Histories of behavioral problems
– Substance Abuse And Mental Health Services Administration
Phil is editor for The Clarkston News. He is a veteran of the first Iraq war, having served in the U.S. Army.