LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) – Parents say the bullying issues at Lafayette Sunnyside Middle School are out of control. In News 18, we give you an in-depth look at these claims and how the school is responding in a three-part series. A triggering warning to readers, the subjects of suicide are mentioned in this story.
“There is a problem, and I think the consistent part of this problem is Sunnyside,” said Melissa Lynch, mother of Anna Lynch who claims to have been bullied at Lafayette Sunnyside.
Parents turned to the protest in hopes of making changes. On Tuesday, June 2, several parents and their children gathered in front of the school for a peaceful protest with anti-bullying posters, hoping to raise awareness of the issues. Many of these parents say that they all went through the same cycle of bullying their child, that they spoke to administrators about the issues, that they did not hear anything from the administrators or administrators telling them it was managed, then the bullying continues. But it’s important that we first look at what the school defines as bullying.
According to the Indiana School Safety Code, bullying is defined as repeated overt and unwanted acts or gestures. This includes verbal or written communications transmitted, physical acts committed or any other behavior committed.
“Because of my weight, I was bullied. People wished me death and called me not so nice names.”
This is the opening statement of a letter written by Sunnyside Grade 5 student Anna Lynch. She said her experience fits perfectly with the school safety code’s definition of bullying. She claims to have been through everything from verbal harassment to cyber-harassment to physical harassment. She wrote the letter to help her express her feelings and deal with what she went through.
“Anna would come home and say, I had a bad day – there are kids who weren’t nice to me,” her mother Melissa said.
Melissa said these conversations started to become cohesive and it was always the same students who hurt her.
“I would just say, well, you told the teacher that and she would say, ‘Yes, I told the teacher,’ then I expected that since I haven’t been contacted, that was taken care of, but it continued, “says Mélissa.
She said she and her husband went to school several times to speak with administrators, but the bullying continued.
“You know, you finally realize that nothing is being done, but you know, when we started going to the office, they weren’t going to help us at all,” Melissa said.
Sunnyside student Aiden Zeck said he also found himself at an impasse with the administrators when it came to finding a resolution to the incident he suffered.
“I was going to the sink to do something, I think or I was going to help someone and he just came up to my ear and said ‘die’. I was like, ‘what? Why,’ said Aiden said.
It happened to him in 5th. Now finishing her 6th grade, her mother Tina said the classroom comment caused a wave of negative effects on her mental health.
“He had mentioned that he was going to kill himself on several occasions and that’s when he told us that this other student told him that,” said Aiden’s mother, Tina Zeck. “It broke my heart because, I mean, you never want to hear that from your kid.”
Tina said after informing the teachers, they worked to separate Aiden and the other student, but she said no further bullying prevention acts were put in place. And seeing that this is how it ended for several students who have reported being bullied, she and all the other parents are trying to figure out why cases of bullying seem so prevalent in Sunnyside.
“Sunnyside, they brought all the primary schools together in one building, which I think could have been a problem,” Tina said. “I guess just throwing everyone in there you don’t really know what to expect.”
Population and age could be the root of the problem these parents and children face. According to Dr. Alicia Clevenger, the school’s assistant superintendent for programs and teaching, the school welcomes nearly 1,200 students per year.
“It’s a tricky age, I think, and so at Sunnyside, all of a sudden you’re bringing all the fifth graders and all the sixth graders in our district together in one building,” Clevenger said.
She said parents voicing concerns about bullying were nothing new to school administrators.
“I think there has always been a problem,” Clevenger said. “I think this may have come to light more in the last few years or the last couple of years with the increased use of social media.”
While she acknowledges that there are students who have been bullied on Sunnyside, she said some of these frustrated parents might misunderstand the difference between a bullied child and two children in conflict.
“I can’t say that bullying is widespread, there is bad behavior that is widespread,” Clevenger said. “This is a lever of power and it is not – when it comes to an equal participation like a fight where they both throw punches or name-calling, it doesn’t there is no leverage of power, so it’s not bullying. “
She said the school had dealt with several allegations of bullying which, upon investigation, were determined to be conflict. But for cases that are indeed harassment, she said the school follows state protocol.
“It’s taken very seriously and so we have an anti-bullying plan that the district follows and often its consequences, but it also needs to be in conjunction with education and counseling and things like that. nature, ”Clevenger said.
She thinks these parents might be frustrated not being told exactly how the school deals with the bully.
“The reason we can’t share this information with parents is due to federal law, and we call it FERPA,” Clevenger said.
FERPA is an acronym which stands for Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. He works to protect a child’s school record. Once the school sanctions a bully for their actions, this file is then protected by this law and cannot be disclosed to any other person.
But Anna’s mother Melissa said her frustration is not with not being told how the bully was punished. She, like other parents, said the anti-bullying plan was not working.
“I never expected to be contacted and be told so and so was suspended from school or had detention or anything like that, but I expected changes to be made,” said Melissa. “I expected my daughter not to come home from school saying the same names and saying the same types of behaviors are happening.”
“I feel like the school is not doing enough to protect children who are bullied,” Tina said.
Our next special report this month will take an in-depth look at the school’s anti-bullying plan and a new program they’ve implemented. We’ll see if parents think it’s enough to keep their kids safe. The story will air on Wednesday, June 16.