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SPECIAL REPORT: Parents call for better anti-bullying policies in schools

Published: May. 12, 2022 at 6:23 PM EDT
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - Bullying can affect anyone, and the consequences can be deadly.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reports of bullying are highest in middle schools.

While alarming, some local parents said this statistic is not surprising.

It is something the Elkhart community saw first-hand back in March, when 12-year-old Rio Allred took her own life after heartbreaking claims that she was bullied multiple times at North Side Middle School.

Since her story aired, countless other parents have reached out to 16 News Now sharing their stories, all while pushing for safer learning environments.

16 News Now Reporter Monica Murphy reached out to schools across Michiana to find out what is being done to combat bullying.

As she discovered, too many students are walking around in silence, and they need a voice.

Allred’s parents told 16 News Now they believe Elkhart Community Schools failed Rio.

Other parents also told 16 News Now that, they too, believe school districts are failing their children.

We want to know:

Are schools doing enough?

Should all the responsibility fall on schools?

Should there be better reporting policies in place?

Are claims taken seriously?

What about anti-bullying legislation?

At what point are we going to say, “enough is enough?”

16 News Now sat down with Tara Davis, who is the grandmother of 10-year-old Maliah Conner.

According to Tara, Maliah started being bullied last September while at Concord Intermediate School.

One girl reportedly told Maliah, “Kill yourself.”

“Words carry weight. From what I understand words are life and death. They will bring it,” said Tara.

That girl also reportedly pushed Maliah and slapped her in the face.

Tara said she addressed these concerns with Maliah’s teachers.

“We’re dealing with it. We’re dealing with it. They assured me that,” she said.

But Tara claims the bullying continued.

In March she said that same girl hit Maliah in the face with a hockey stick during gym class, causing severe bleeding.

Tara also claims she was contacted two hours after the incident happened.

“I felt so helpless...I cried for two weeks straight (cries). I am sorry. Every day,” Tara said.

The Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) defines bullying as “unwanted, repeated acts or gestures, including verbal or written communications...physical acts committed...with the intent to harass, ridicule, humiliate, intimidate, or harm the targeted student and create for the targeted student an objectively hostile school environment.”

According to the CDC, bullying is a “frequent discipline problem.”

IDOE also says, “Bullying fosters a climate of fear and disrespect that can seriously impair the physical and psychological health of its victims and creates conditions that negatively impact learning.”

“Maliah is, her self-esteem is totally gone. She feels humiliated like, ‘why is everybody picking on me?’” said Tara.

Tara said she then tried speaking to the superintendent

“And asked for a bullying grievance form. And they told me there is no such form,” she said.

16 News Now requested an on-camera interview with Concord Community Schools, but in a statement, they said students can speak to an adult or post concerns on an online form called “See Something, Hear Something, Say Something” or “Bullying Incident Report Form.”

From there, administrators and the Concord Community Schools Police Department are then reportedly notified right away.

Tara said she was referred to Concord Police, where they reviewed tapes.

Concord Community Schools also said staff members are trained to screen whether the incident is conflict or bullying.

If the situation is determined to be bullying, teachers are required to report the incident to the building administrator.

IDOE says there are some considerations in determining if the behavior meets the definition of bullying, like repetition and looking at the history between the students.

IDOE also says “...each school is required to report the number of bullying incidents involving a student of their school corporation...To increase compliance and understanding of the requirements, frequent reminders were sent to every superintendent and principal in the state...”

Concord Intermediate School, for example, reported zero bullying incidents in the 2020-2021 school year.

Tara said this is not surprising.

She eventually filed charges and removed Maliah from the district.

“There needs to be something in place. You do this, mandatory counseling. Because, again, hurting people hurt people. And if a child is bullying a child, there is a reason why,” said Tara.

Jennifer Lyvers and Eric Parmley said they feel the same way.

They claim their daughter, Emma, was bullied last October while attending Hums Elementary School in Mishawaka.

They said Emma was verbally abused, intimidated into solitude and threatened with physical harm.

Jennifer and Eric said they spoke to Emma’s teachers about the matter but were reportedly told Emma needed to work on coping mechanisms.

They then went to the principal, who outlined a plan.

Jennifer and Eric said they did not like the principal’s handling of the matter.

“So, when we asked the principal at Hums what is your evidence-based anti-bullying program, he said we have none,” said Jennifer.

They then spoke with the superintendent.

“...and the superintendent kind of said that the principal’s plan is going to be the plan. He did offer for Emma to talk to the school counselor, but after further conversations he kind of withdrew that offer,” said Jennifer.

16 News Now asked School City of Mishawaka for an on-camera interview, but in a statement, they said, “Bullying behavior...is strictly prohibited and will not be tolerated.”

The district also said people can file complaints or allegations of bullying to the principal, assistant principal or superintendent.

Students can also report concerns to teachers and counselors.

The district also has a link on its website to report bullying incidents.

The administrator or board official must investigate and report findings.

Like Concord Intermediate School, Hums also reported zero bullying incidents in the 2020-2021 school year.

Jennifer and Eric are also calling for change.

“I think initially they just need to have a systematic process to address this,” said Eric.

Emma’s parents also said the state should pump more money into bullying prevention initiatives.

“I think it’s really important that funds be devoted to this problem,” said Jennifer.

IDOE calls on all schools to review bullying policies and says educators should be given training on bullying prevention and definitions.

Meantime, Jennifer and Eric withdrew Emma from the district.

They said Emma is a lot happier now and enjoys going to school again.

If you are interested in viewing the bullying data and the number of reports filed, click here/see below.

Meantime, Rio Allred’s parents started a non-profit called Rio’s Rainbow.

The goal is to end bullying and to help kids who are walking in silence.

16 News Now will continue to shed light on the topic of bullying.

If you have a story idea, please email Monica at monica.murphy@wndu.com

If you would like to view Indiana’s Schools Bullying, Safety Staffing, and Arrest Report for 2021, simply click here.

If you would like to view a comprehensive spreadsheet of incidents at schools in Michiana, simply click here.

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