Extreme bullying in Michiana schools is pushing some students to the brink.
One Elkhart couple almost lost their son as a result of the physical and emotional abuse they say he endured. The family asked NewsCenter 16 to only use their first names to help protect their son from more bullying.
“He would scream and cry in the morning and not want to go to school,” said Amber. “So, all the signs were there.”
Starting in second grade, Amber says her son would come home saying a kid was pushing him around at school.
But, he eventually stopped talking about it.
Then, in the third and fourth grades, Amber and her husband noticed their son’s grades were dropping. They’d find bruises on his body and, sometimes, finger prints around his neck.
“His teacher in 4th grade kind of brought to our attention that when he would go missing for a period of time like during lunch or something that she would go look for him,” Amber said. “And, it ends up he was in the bathroom hiding and crying.”
That’s when Amber and Todd decided to put their son in counseling, which did help.
But, when they went to their son’s Elkhart school to have the bullying situation addressed, they always left feeling frustrated.
“The problem with bullies is that they’re smart, they're not going to bully a child when they know they're being watched,” Amber said. “And, that's exactly what was happening to our son. It was under the radar basically.”
With little help from the school, the bullying continued. And, at just 10 years old, the boy had a break down.
“He told me at that point that he had planned out how he was going to commit suicide,” Amber said. “And, he told me how he planned to say goodbye to me in the letter.”
At that point, their son had been bullied for three years. He was already on anxiety medication and seeing a counselor. So, Amber and Todd knew something else had to change.
“To know that we almost lost him, I mean, I don’t know how a parent would ever get by and deal with that,” Amber said.
The parents decided to take their son out of the bullying situation by transferring him to another Elkhart elementary school.
And, with the help of teachers and administrators at Beardsley Elementary, he thrived.
“It’s like the kid we used to have was back,” Amber said.
But, as middle school approached, their son’s fear returned.
He’d be going to the same school as the alleged bully once again. And, that’s when the problems resurfaced.
“The things he would say to our son like, ‘You’re a fag’ and ‘You’re gay,’ that was stuff kids who didn’t know him, it stuck with him,” Amber said.
The school offered to reroute their son’s schedule, but Amber and Todd didn’t think that was fair since he was the victim.
Feeling helpless once again, they told their son something they never thought they would.
“Because we weren't getting answers from the school, I honestly told my son that if this kid started stuff, that the gloves were off,” Amber said. “He needed to show him that he was not going to take it anymore.”
So, that’s what their son did. When the alleged bully confronted him, their son hesitantly fought back.
“We told him, we don’t condone fighting. He knew that. We just told him, ‘You have done everything. We have done everything. We’re not getting answers. You don’t seem to be getting help and maybe this is just what needs to happen.”
Their son was suspended for hitting the alleged bully, who got a shorter, in-school suspension.
Once again, Amber and Todd felt the bully was being protected. That’s when they decided they had to take the issue to the Elkhart School Board.
“I stood up and told them of the situation and that, as much as everyone would like to think this doesn’t take place in your school, your neighborhood, that it does and it happens right under your nose. And, something needs to be done.”
Now, Amber and Todd are working with Elkhart schools to help attack the problem head-on. They’re going through anti-bullying training and serving on an advisory committee.
And, despite the horrific experiences he went through, their now 14-year-old son is doing well.
“His Facebook when the altercation took place, the support of the students reaching out to him and saying, ‘It’s about time, thank you,’ it was amazing. And, so he kind of has a whole new respect at the school. And, that’s really awesome to see.”
Elkhart Community Schools use the popular Owleus Bullying Prevention Program. They work directly with students and parents to address any issues quickly, but results don’t always come immediately. People can report instances of bullying anonymously online to help combat the problem in schools.
Part three of Barbara Harrington’s special report airs Thursday and will explain what other schools are doing to reduce bullying and how parents can help.