Anti-bullying groups form as parents grow frustrated

“It’s not fair and it’s not right that the teachers didn’t try to stop it.”

That’s what Tami Key felt when she found out from her 12-year-old daughter that she had been bullied in her math class. Key’s daughter, who has asked to not be named, experienced multiple instances of bullying during her sixth grade year at White Pine Middle School. Her classmates called her names and degraded her for her dyslexia, and one student pushed her down a stair case on two separate occasions. According to Key, the school didn’t do enough to punish those that made it so her daughter no longer wanted to go to school.

“My daughter wanted to switch schools. Her grades dropped. I think White Pine needs to pull their heads out of their butts. It’s ridiculous,” key said.

Her main source of frustration comes from how the school disciplines the troublemaking bullies.  Those that are found to be causing a problem are given “in-school suspension” where the student is separated into another classroom. For Key, that is just a “slap on the wrist” that didn’t prevent her daughter from being abused even after the bullies where disciplined.

“Those kids need to be sent home. They shouldn’t be getting credit and doing homework in another classroom. If you are going to punish them, punish them right,” the mother said.

Garrett Estrada photo White Pine County School District Superintendent Bob Dolezal said most bullying happens at the middle school level due to puberty.

Garrett Estrada photo
White Pine County School District Superintendent Bob Dolezal said most bullying happens at the middle school level due to puberty.

Key isn’t the only local parent feeling frustrated either. Keith Groben said that he homeschooled his children for a few years out due to what he had heard about bullying problems in the schools. When his son was old enough for fifth grade, he decided to try and send him to David E. Norman Elementary. What he heard back from his son shocked him.

“He told me that a boy came up to him at lunch and punch him in the face,” Groben said.

It wasn’t his son’s first experience with bullying either. Just the day before, another elementary school student shot at him with a pellet gun on his short walk home. Though he was outraged, Groben decided that rather than be upset, he should try and do something about the problem.

“It’s going to take parents in the community to help this,” Groben said. The father and web designer started a Facebook group for parents and students to share their bullying stories anonymously. His goal is to help get the word out about the problem and better educate those that have been victimized by bullies about the best way to respond.

“As a parent, there is no worse feeling in the world than feeling your kids aren’t safe at school. I want people to share their bullying stories. I honestly think that Ely is the kind of community that could be an example of how to handle these issues,” Groben said.

Cameron Brazell, a sophomore at White Pine High School believes that as well. He too has created Facebook groups to try and educate students at a peer to peer level, as well as forming a group that he calls “troops” to address bullies and talk to them. He said that” nine out of ten times” the bullies he and his troops have talked with have said that they are just taking out their anger from when they were bullied on younger and smaller kids.

“A lot of these kids were bullied themselves. I was bullied. I know the feeling of being angry about it, feeling like it’s not fair and wanting to take that out on someone else, but that just keeps the cycle going. We try to talk to them and hopefully get them to stop hurting other people,” Brazell said.

Brazell said that he would see instances of bullying “everyday” while he was in middle school. From people getting shoved into lockers to people getting hit in the face, there was always someone getting picked on or hurt. He said that he found the best way to get bullies to back away from him was to stand up for himself. But in Key’s case, that can also prove to be problematic.

“My daughter finally stood up for herself against a bully and she ended up being the one who got in trouble,” she said.

According to White Pine School District Superintendent Bob Dolezal, the schools are doing the best they can to look into reports of bullying. He admits that the most common place for the behavior is in the middle school, due to kids “starting to become more aware of themselves and those around them,” but he said that programs like the “Cougar Traits” that teach proper behavior have started to make a positve impact.

“We are starting to see less fights at the high school level and not as many reports coming out of the high school and I think that is due to these kids coming up through these programs like the Cougar Traits,” Dolezal said.

Brazell is not so sure.

“I only remember one of the traits, which was respect others. It always felt more like a rule than a trait and I didn’t see people following it anyway so I don’t think they have helped much.”

But changes are being implemented. Thanks to Senate Bill 504 passing through the State Legislature in May, schools in Nevada now have to respond to any report of bullying within 24 hours of the report being filed or by the next school day if it was filed just before a weekend or break. Brazell said he knows the teachers were handed slips about the new anti-bullying rules at the beginning of the school year, but thinks that many of them haven’t changed their ways just yet.

“When something happens in class, I still see teachers either try to get in the middle of the two students, trying to intervene, or look like they don’t know what to do. I’ve had to remind several teachers about the new rules,” he said.

But Dolezal remains optimistic about the direction the school district is headed in in tackling this issue.

“Look, we know that we will probably never be able to fully eliminate bullying from our schools but this is a good community with good people and I think that most students are kind and want to do the right thing. We are trying to educate more students to say something when they see something and to stand up to bullies,” the superintendent said. “I know that any parent who has had their child bullied is frustrated and in each of those cases we have failed them. But we are trying new things and trying to get better.”

For more information about Nevada’s new legislature on bullying, visit https://www.leg.state.nv.us/Session/78th2015/Bills/SB/SB504.pdf. To support or join the local Facebook group trying to make a difference in White Pine schools, visit Facebook.com/groups/wpsafeschools.