Parents: Schools don't handle bullying

May 17, 2010 4:02:49 PM PDT
The suicide of Phoebe Prince in Boston focused the national spotlight on bullying in recent weeks. Then, just days ago, a 15-year-old Alabama girl jumped off an interstate overpass after being bullied at school.

Local parents say they're seeing it play out here too. Many have called and e-mailed the I-Team with terrible stories of abuse -asking us to help.

“I want help. I want the bullying to stop in the schools because innocent kids are getting hurt,” parent Tracie Fuentes told us.

Fuentes' son Aaron is a Durham High School Student. She and her husband Andrew have pictures of him with a bloody face following an incident two weeks after his 17th birthday.

Aaron remembers the days of bullying that led up to the violent attack on campus that happened with a school resource officer nearby.

“I said ‘I'm not gonna fight you.’ I said ‘There ain't no reason,’ then I blinked for a second and then he hits me,” said Aaron.

And he doesn't remember much else - just being hit, falling, and curling up in a fetal position to protect himself.

When he came to, both his front teeth were missing and his face was bloodied and bruised.

“We take care of our kids, said Tracie Fuentes. “And you don't just want to see them on school grounds all bloodied.”

Families throughout the Triangle have reached out to the I-Team. They’ve written letters about their student being called “tattletale.”

One Wake County parent says their child is the victim of bullying and harassment.

Others say help is needed for parents even at private schools where bullies with parents who donate large sums of money go unpunished.

“Schools are in a tough position - especially right now with budget cuts and classroom sizes,” offered school violence expert William Lassiter in an interview with ABC11.

Lassiter – who works with the North Carolina Center for the Prevention of School Violence says many schools are simply overwhelmed and sometimes unaware of what to do when a bully lashes out.

“One of the things that I really emphasize when we go out and train educators is not to just focus on the bully,” said Lassiter.

Under North Carolina's new anti-bullying law, teachers are required to report bullying. And, every school board must have a policy to reprimand teachers or staff who fail to report abuse.

So how bad is it here? 38 percent of North Carolina students say they've been bullied. Most often, it starts in elementary school, peaks in middle school, and declines somewhat in high school.

Seven percent of North Carolina 8th graders say they missed at least one school day each month because they're afraid.

Some parents switch schools. Gemina Hayes did.

“It's like the teachers don't even care anymore,” she said.

Her first grader was teased, and then things got worse.

“He hit him in the head with a stick,” she recalled.”A week after that, he pushed his face in a wooden cubby and damaged his right eye.”

With little response from administrators, Hayes says she was at a loss for what to do next.

The same goes for the Fuentes family.

Aaron transferred to a different school. But first, he finished out the school year - walking the same hallways as his bully who was also arrested and given probation.

But the judge decided his parent doesn't have to pay restitution. That means Aaron's dental bills go unpaid and the plan to save his teeth is on hold until his parents raise enough money.

“It's okay for him to do what he did. All he got was a slap on the wrist and left a family hurting,” said Tracie Fuentes.

Experts say the best thing a parent can do is advocate for their child. Keep a journal, document abuse and the school's response, meet with administrators, and push for a plan to stop the bully.

“Make them sign the plan at the end of that conversation. That holds everybody accountable,” said Lassiter.

Getting everyone to do their part is the goal, but as the Fuentes family and others like them have learned, it's easier said than done..

“We've done everything we're supposed to do and according to the rules and the way it's supposed to be done. And what do we get? Nothing,” said Aaron’s father Andrew Fuentes.

To learn more about preventing school violence, visit the North Carolina Center for the Prevention of School Violence website.

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