PHM responds to questions about student discipline following fight video

GRANGER, Ind. (WNDU) - After disturbing cellphone video showed bullying at a local middle school, NewsCenter 16 viewers have reached out to the station with questions about how the boys involved were punished at Discovery Middle School in Granger.

The principal previously confirmed the incident happened Monday during passing period in a boys' bathroom.

On Wednesday, Penn-Harris-Madison Schools released a statement, in part, stating:

Step one of our investigation process once a violation has been confirmed is to immediately place students on suspension. This does not mean that this is the end result of the disciplinary process. This is only the first step. This allows school administrators and our Safety Department time to conduct an investigation, which includes but is not limited to talking to other students, parents, staff, and sometimes police investigators.

P-H-M is bound by FERPA, a federal law preventing the school or district from divulging personal student information, including punishment taken.

Still, no matter the district in which viewers reside, bullying can be a prominent concern in a parent's mind, since the issue can inflict severe, long-term effects on a child.

"Trauma changes the brain, and that's what PTSD is. It's post-traumatic stress disorder," said Dr. Erin Leonard, a Mishawaka-based psychotherapist.

Dr. Leonard said children who are being bullied usually are not going to admit they are victims. They feel humiliated and don't want to relive the issue, nor do they want to disappoint or hurt their parents because bullying is painful. A third reason kids won't share is they fear if they come forward, trusted adults won't believe them, explained Leonard.

"What they need most is empathy," she said.

According to Leonard, empathetic things parents can say to a bullying victim include:
-"It really hurts to be treated like that."
-"It's really unfair."
-"It really makes you worry about who you are."

After a parent or guardian empathizes with the bullied child, Dr. Leonard said it's important for parents and children to work together on positive ways to address the bullying problem.

"Bullies and their parents typically turn the bullying back on the victim and say, 'Oh, it wasn't my child,'" paraphrased Leonard. "So the parent has to be thoughtful about coming forward and really supplying the school with evidence and some data about what's happened."

Dr. Leonard said counseling is an excellent idea for bullying victims. In the adolescent years, she said privacy from their parents becomes a greater concern for children, and they may feel more comfortable speaking to a therapist.

Full statement from Penn-Harris-Madison School Corp. on the April 8 incident at Discovery Middle School:

We understand that angst and anxiety has grown over these past few days after Monday’s incident at Discovery Middle School and that social media has exacerbated the situation. It is important that all of our families understand that Discovery Middle School, and
all of Penn-Harris-Madison School Corporation, takes the responsibility of providing a safe learning environment for all of our students very seriously.

As was stated in Discovery Principal Sheryll Harper’s parent email on Tuesday morning while FERPA (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act-please click this link for more information on FERPA) prevents the district from disclosing details about disciplinary actions, we can share again Penn-Harris-Madison’s range of disciplinary consequences that can be issued when a student is in violation of our Code of Conduct. Our disciplinary actions are outlined in our
Student Handbook.

“Violations of the Code of Conduct may be punishable by suspension, expulsion, or other discipline as determined by the administration. Violations may also be referred to law enforcement agencies where appropriate. The word “school” refers to all corporation properties
and activities. Students engaging in conduct punishable as a felony on school grounds, while attending school-related events, or traveling to or from school or a school-related event will be recommended for expulsion.” (taken from the P-H-M Middle School Handbook, page 22).

Step one of our investigation process once a violation has been confirmed is to immediately place students on suspension. This
does not mean that this is the end result of the disciplinary process.
This is only the first step. This allows school administrators and our Safety Department time to conduct an investigation, which includes but is not limited to talking to other students, parents, staff, and sometimes police investigators.

Discovery Middle School administrators have been working with P-H-M Administration this week conducting a thorough investigation following all of district protocols.

We ask for the community’s understanding that the school or district cannot under federal law disclose any part of a student’s record, including disciplinary actions. This applies to every student in the district. We have sought out legal advice on this matter.

P-H-M makes the safety of our students a number one priority. It is our duty to provide a safe learning environment for our students and we are handling this matter accordingly and will issue all the appropriate consequences to ensure the safety of all our students.