Students take stand against bullying

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Ask school board to get tough on offenders

By Tom Wilmoth

Bullying took center stage at last week’s Bedford County School Board meeting as several students and parents spoke about the issue, asking for the school system to do more to combat offenders.
    They hope the school system will implement a bullying prevention program.
     Camy Mullins, a junior at Staunton River High School, said she was bullied by a group of girls as a sophomore at the school. She said an effort by administrators to have the parties “talk” through their differences didn’t work.
    “I don’t think that would work for anybody,” she said.
    She also said a step by the school to have the parties sign a contract in which they agree to leave each other alone didn’t work. “I had things thrown at me by those girls,” said Mullins, a    cheerleader,     about    her experiences during basketball season.
    Mullins said she was told that there are “some things you just have to deal with in life,” by school administrators.
    She told school board members that bullying is something that students shouldn’t have to face at school. “It happens every day,” she said, adding that a change is needed. “I hope everybody else wants a change, too.”
    Laura Ellis, a sophomore at Staunton River, has started a Facebook group against bullying and has more than 500 members as part of the effort. She called on the board to implement a bullying prevention program in the school system, stating that the current “no-contact, contract” doesn’t work.
    “I was bullied for two dreadful years,” Ellis said.
    She called the daily bullying “heinous,” adding she would go home crying. “They laughed in my face,” she said of those bullying her.
    Wendy Tucker, a former student at SRHS, said she was bullied at the school as a student and the effects of that have stuck with her throughout her life. “It’s painful,” she said. “It’s not something that goes away.”
    She said bullying can be stopped. “It’s not ‘kids just being kids’,” she said of the problem.
    Tucker said school should be a place where children go to learn and should not be a place where they have to fear other students.
    “That’s what it has become,” she said. “I don’t want bullying in my schools.”
    Amanda Walthall, who said she had worked as an employee in the school system, said she saw the problem of bullying both as an employee and as a parent. Her daughter was also bullied, she said.
    “She was scared for her safety,” she said of her daughter. “Children are bullied on a daily basis. I would like to see something done.”
    During their comment time, several school board members commended the students who came forward and agreed to look at the issue further. City School Board member Mickey VanDerwerker said bullying has not been an issue brought up by the Student Advisory Council this year, but she said it needs to addressed by the board.
    “It’s quite alarming to hear that,” District 1 board member Richard Downey said of what the students shared. “We shouldn’t take the students’ comments lightly.”
    The board will look at the issue and current policy at a meeting next month.
    Ryan Edwards, public relations coordinator for BCPS, said if the efforts of Ellis and the other students bring more awareness to the problem throughout the school and community, “then it can do nothing but good things for all in this area.”
    “It’s everybody’s responsibility to work to eradicate bullying,” Edwards said. “We’re hoping that everybody will do their part.”
    The Code of Student Conduct for BCPS states that all students “have the right to an environment that is safe, drug-free, and conducive to learning.” It states that character development is the foundation for the standards of that conduct expected, including in the areas of trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship.
    In other action Thursday, School calendars dominated much of the discussion. This has been an ongoing discussion for the board, which, by members’ accounts, has generated plenty of feedback from school employees.
    Thursday’s discussion included:
    • A request by District 4 board member Gary Hostutler to add a couple of “snow days” to the current calendar since the school system didn’t have to use most of their allotted days. “We’ve got plenty of hours,” he said of the current school year. He said by providing a couple of days off, it could serve as a “thank you” to school staff for their efforts this year. The school administration will develop a few potential days that could be used for this purpose and the issue will be discussed further at a workshop set for April 19.
    • A look at a vote by school employees concerning options for the 2013-2014 calendar. Two options were presented to employees for a vote, but those options will be reworked for additional options following last week’s discussion. 
    Also on Thursday the board:
    • Elected Julie Bennington to serve as vice chairman for the board. Bennington takes over for Brad Whorley who resigned from the board last month.
    • Awarded a bid to replace wall panels at Staunton River Middle School to Owen Building & Remodeling at a cost of $160,567.
    • Voted to close off seven schools to zone transfers for the 2012-2013 school year. Those schools include Staunton River High School, Staunton River Middle School, Forest Elementary, Forest Middle School, Thaxton Elementary, New London Elementary and Thomas Jefferson Elementary.