LISD bullies drive students out of District
By LPR Staff
A sixth grader is spanked in front of his classmates, and threatened with rape.
A second grader is told she must pay a quarter, or have a classmate watch her urinate. She will be beaten up, she is told, if she tells an adult.
A talented athlete opts for homeschool, after spending a year on her c
ampus’s “whore list.”
On the national news, stories like these are far too common. It seems every day, there is a new story about a new child being tortured by classmates, their lives changed forever and their demeanors diminishing from bright, happy children to sad, withdrawn husks.
Everyone is familiar with names like Megan Meier, Tyler Clementi and Mentor High School, were five students took their own lives inside of three years. But the situations listed above didn’t happen at Mentor High School. They didn’t happen at Rutgers University, or at an inner-city school where families and teachers are over-burdened and under-assisted.
These things happen in Lockhart.
“It’s like a cultural cancer,” said Annie*, the parent of the student who was threatened with rape. “I don’t even know that it’s a matter of bullying, the way we think of bullying. But what it is, is a matter of parents are letting kids see more and more inappropriate movies, and they are being exposed outside of school to things that just aren’t appropriate inside the school.”
Annie said in her son’s one year in Lockhart schools, he was not only threatened by classmates, but he witnessed children having sex in an elementary school bathroom, and came home asking questions about anatomy that made both she and her husband blush.
“We are the ones that want to teach him those things, when he’s old enough to understand them,” she said. “And here he is, coming home asking about words and activities that my husband and I …. We just didn’t know what to say.”
Among those situations, she said, a schoolmate simulated fellatio on a carrot, on his first day in the school cafeteria. The girl was, at the time, in the fifth grade.
As a result of her son’s experiences, Annie chose to withdraw her child from school, instead enrolling him in a private school outside the community. There, she said, he is thriving, learning and unafraid to go to school.
Over the last five years, more than 40 parents have chosen to withdraw their children from Lockhart ISD, instead opting for home school or private school education. Though available LISD records do not reflect specifically the reasons for those withdrawals, anecdotal evidence from parents suggests that bullying, and the sexually-based nature of many students’ behavioral issues, could be at the root.
“If I could afford to send my kids to private school, or if I had the ability to homeschool them, I would,” said Trina, whose daughter witnessed the second-grade “peeper” at her elementary school. “I moved to Lockhart because my husband and I love the neighborhood atmosphere and being able to have our kids play with their friends up the block… But sometimes, when they come home from school and ask me about the things they are hearing and seeing, I understand why parents make the choice to take their kids out.”
Nationwide statistics reflect that during the last school year, nearly 30 percent of all students said they had been bullied. Of those, more than 64 percent did not report it. According to the Centers for Disease Control, students who experience bullying are at an increased risk for depression, sleep disruption and difficulty adjusting to their school environment.
“My son only spent one full year in school at LISD,” Annie said. “And he really was a changed kid, from the way he was before we moved. I’ve heard people say that it’s like this, in schools everywhere, but nothing like what he’s witnessed and experienced in Lockhart did we hear of when we were back home (in the Eastern United States). It’s not like this everywhere.”
Since he was removed from Lockhart ISD and put in a private school environment early in this school year, Annie reports her son is happier, doing better in his classes, and was happy to sacrifice the extracurricular activities and sporting participation available in public school, for the safety and comfort that his private school provides.
Lockhart ISD does have protocols in place to prevent bullying; however, according to some parents, those protocols are not always effective – they are even less effective when students don’t report being bullied.
Under Lockhart ISD’s bullying policy, “bullying occurs when a student or group of students engages in written or verbal expression, expression through electronic methods, or physical conduct against another student on school property, at a school-sponsored or related activity, or in a district operated vehicle, and the behavior: results in harm to the student or the student’s property; places a student in reasonable fear of physical harm or of damage to the student’s property; or is so severe, persistent, and pervasive that it creates an intimidating, threatening, or abusive educational environment.”
All too often, though, bullying is dismissed by parents as “kids will be kids,” and students are encouraged to stand up for themselves, or ignore their bullies and hope they go away.
“I think it’s a problem that parents don’t do what my husband and I did, and they don’t go to the schools right away to try to stop it,” Annie said. “I don’t really think it’s the District’s fault, I really think it’s parents not knowing what to say and how to say it, and not really understanding how bad it can be for the kids.”
In Lockhart ISD, after investigations at the administrative level take place, students can be either removed from classrooms or campuses, or otherwise disciplined if they are found to perpetrate bullying behavior.
However, according to Annie, nothing really happened to the child that threatened her son.
“There wasn’t another class that they could put him in,” she said. “So they wanted to rearrange my son’s schedule to move him away from that student, and that’s when I decided we’d had enough. I don’t see the point of creating turmoil and up-ending the schedule of the kids that haven’t done anything wrong, instead of inconveniencing the kids that are making the trouble.”
Trina agreed, suggesting she will attempt to move her children to another campus at the end of the school year.
“I love the teachers [at their current school], but the people I know with children on other campuses, they don’t have problems like this,” Trina said. “And since I can’t pull them out of the District, the only thing I can do is see if it’s better at another school.”
Trina said she, too, has reported the incident of the “peeper” to her school’s administration, but because her daughter did not identify the child that threatened her, she wasn’t sure whether anything could or would be done.
“That’s the thing that scares me,” she said. “Because that little girl is getting that behavior from somewhere, and I worry this is something she’s learning at home, or acting out because of something that’s happened to her at home.”
“Bullying is extremely prevalent and it is a public health problem because of its prevalence,” said researcher Marci Hertz, a lead health scientist with the Centers for Disease Control, who participated in a 2011 study on bullying and domestic abuse. “Victims, perpetrators or both are at increased risk for engaging in other sort of behaviors.”
“Kids who are involved with bullying are also involved in substance abuse and have a family history of violence,” she said. “Programs that are comprehensive and involved families and communities working in partnership with schools are needed to stop bullying.”
Although bullying is considered, in some circles, to be a rite of passage, in others, it is recognized as a social disease – a disease that it will take all of society to cure.
According to TogetherAgainstBullying.com, research consistently shows that much of the bullying that is done can be reduced. In fact, studies have shown that in more than 50 percent of cases, bullying behaviors are reduced significantly as a result of peer intervention – friends standing up for friends.
Furthermore, strong parental involvement, including teaching children to stand up for others, and to report bullying behavior, are incredibly strong social tools to reduce the instance of bullying behaviors. Bullies who are held accountable for their behavior tend not to repeat it.
Ultimately, research has reflected, time and time again, that a strong societal change is needed to limit the frequency and intensity of bullying behaviors among our children.
Instead of parking children in front of the television or taking them to see movies that may be inappropriate, experts suggest more family time, including playing games, eating meals together, and talking as a family.
If your child or someone your child knows is being bullied at school, please make a report to the appropriate school administrator at once.
* The names of the parents and children that participated in the research and interviews for this story have been changed to protect the identity of the students and their families.