Bullied to a Breaking Point: Proctor Parents Criticize District Response to Slurs
PROCTOR-In many bullying cases the conflicts between parents and school districts overshadow what is actually happening in the hallways.
Most recently, Proctor parents have created "Mothers Against Bullying”. And although group organizers say they are "not here to point fingers", it’s clear they are questioning district policies that administrators say are sufficient.
It’s topic of FOX 21’s final installment of Jacob Kittilstad's series: “Bullied to a Breaking Point".
A student of Proctor's Bayview Elementary School, Kayla Little says she has felt uncomfortable by association alone after racial slurs started getting tossed around.
"My friends were on the bus with [me] and they're a different color and they started crying when I was on the bus and I didn't know why,” Little said.
"It scared me a lot and I had no idea that we had kids at our school like that so I got off the bus, crying, going to my mom and she said 'this needs to stop',” Little said.
Kayla’s mother, Judith Little, says she remembers that day.
"And she was very, very upset and I kind of decided that enough is enough. I personally don't feel that enough is being done as far as taking care of bullying in the schools,” Judith said.
Judith organized the first meeting of the city's "Mothers Against Bullying" group. The goal of the Sunday night meeting was to open communications between parents and the district who may be keeping different standards.
Proctor's superintendent lists the criteria: the bully must be in a position of power, there must be an intent to hurt, and it must be ongoing.
In addition, a one time "picking-on" is not equal to bullying, however, Proctor School District administrators say they have open ears.
"Well we act on anything that comes before us and how we do that, we do that in a number of ways. We do something call restorative circles and we get the kids together and they talk about their feelings. They draw up a contract to talk about how they're going to treat each other from that time forward,” Diane Morin, who works with the school programs, said.
But Kayla says sometimes the problem is hidden.
"If you keep it inside then nobody can do anything about it but I feel bad for them because maybe they have nobody to tell. Maybe they feel like there's nobody to tell because they're embarrassed,” Kayla said.
"These are just little girls,” Her mother, Judith, adds. “They're the cutest kids ever. They're good kids. For someone to say that is completely malicious [it seems] to me."
In addition, the anti-bullying group would like to see expulsions used more frequently by the Proctor School District. The group contends it would promote a zero-tolerance policy - something allegedly lost after funding ran out for a police liaison in the schools."
"The officer cites the child, the child is cited, the child goes to the attorney's office and it becomes an issue,” Judith said.
"If some parents are thinking that we're not doing enough then we need to listen,” Morin, with the district, said. “To them and we need to sit down and develop strategies to make all kids successful."
"We have added a counselor in the elementary schools and she has groups that deal with different bullying issues as they come up,” Morin said.
The district also maintains that suspension, expulsions, and police officers do not truly solve problems in schools. At best it only removes them.
The Sunday meeting, however, at least started communication despite teachers being told only administrators should be in attendance, the group said. (Administrators say Mothers Against Bullying has misrepresented their email to staff and, in fact, two teachers did attend).
And the kids, like Kayla, also say they know real change will probably start on their level with school leader support on handling sometime racially motivated harassment.
"[Bullies will] just be like 'you're too little. You can't tell me to do anything'. But I think that I can do anything that I want because even though I’m little I can do big things,” Kayla said.
Proctor also started a program called Railstrong that is based on bullying education from the Twin Cities.
**photojournalist Adam Jagunich also contributed to this story**