Parent calls KGUN9 about bullying; school calls police about parent
This mother has repeatedly expressed concern to school officials about the bullying of her son, but thinks the school is reinforcing bullying, not preventing it.
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) -- It's a theme on which 9 On Your Side has reported many times before. Here are the usual ingredients: a child who feels bullied; a threat of suicide; a frustrated parent; defensive, tight-lipped school administrators; conflicting stories; and no solution in sight.
Each of those ingredients plays a role in the latest case that a parent has asked 9 On Your Side to investigate. It involves a child who recently threatened to hang himself, and a mom who feels the boy's charter school has done nothing to protect him. But she did get one direct response: after 9 On Your Side began making inquiries, the school called police and asked officers to remove her from campus.
KGUN9 News first encountered Rebecca (KGUN9 is withholding the parents' last name and also their child's name) a few days ago, when she called to say she is frustrated. She said her son, whom she describes as a gregarious 3rd grader at Math and Science Success Academy, is being bullied -- physically and verbally -- nearly every day, dating back to September. She claims three bullies at the school constantly push and punch him. "They kick him, they pull back their eye to make fun of his Chinese ethnicity," she said.
KGUN9 asked whether this is racial issue. Rebecca replied, "Yes, it's very racial."
Another parent at the school shared a similar story -- telling 9 On Your Side her daughter has gotten upset because of repeated racial remarks from some other students. "They were calling her 'brownie' and other racial comments," said Kara.
Rebecca said that what shocked her the most was a call she received from school after her son made an alarming statement to a teacher. The comment, according to Rebecca: "Two weeks ago he balled up and started crying saying he wanted to go home to hang himself."
Her son, she said, felt as though he had no real safe place in his mind. "He didn't know how to deal with his feelings. He couldn't express them due to the fact that he was so young."
Rebecca told KGUN9 that she and her husband, who is currently deployed in the U.S. military, have repeatedly taken their concerns to administrators -- whom she says tout a "no tolerance" policy against threats, assaults, fighting, and defamation.
Math and Science Success Academy's CEO, Tatyana Chayka, confirmed that policy to 9 On Your Side.
Rebecca believes it's not working. She said, "I find that they're reinforcing bullying. In fact, they tried to move my son to a different classroom instead of the three others. And the principal went so far as to tell me that it's easier to move one child rather than three."
Whe KGUN9 News contacted the school, it denied Rebecca's claim, but declined to talk on camera. Instead, the school issued a written response. "The Math and Science Success Academy prides itself in maintaining a bully-free environment. Our motto here is, 'Every student can succeed.' To make this motto a reality, it is important for all students to feel safe at school so that they may focus on learning."
The CEO, Ms. Chayka, said that the parent called the police to report the bullying incidents. According to Chayka, police did investigate but found no evidence of any bullying.
Late Wednesday afternoon, a few hours after KGUN9 spoke by phone with Chayka, and minutes before the 9 On Your Side Investigation was to air on KGUN9's 5pm newscast, Rebecca called the newsroom to report that the administration had called police on her. She said officers confronted her and said that the school considers her to be a problem, that she is not to be on school grounds except to drop off and pick up her son, or else she could be arrested.
KGUN9's attempts to follow up on the incident Thursday led to conflicting stories.
First, KGUN9 News called Chayka to ask whether the school had, indeed, asked police to come remove Rebecca -- and if so, why. "At this time I will neither confirm nor deny that," Chayka said.
Later in the afternon, a spokesperson for the Tucson Police Department confirmed the incident. Lt. Fabian Pacheco said that a caller from the school administration asked officers to come to the campus to keep the peace, saying that Rebecca was refusing to leave. According to the TPD call log, the caller questioned Rebecca's stability, saying, "One minute she's volatile, the next she's your friend."
Pacheco said that by the time officers arrived, Rebecca had returned to her car. He said the officers then reminded her that she was not to be on campus except to drop off or pick up her son, or else she could be arrested.
However, precisely what prompted this warning -- and why it happened to coincide with the airdate of KGUN9's investigation -- remains in dispute.
Pacheco explained to KGUN9 that, according to administrators, Rebecca had a habit of showing up to school uninvited, and recently had stated her intention to videotape students in an attempt to document her son's bullying. Worse, Pacheco said that, according to the school, Rebecca had written a letter to administrators asking whether her son needed to start bringing a weapon to school for his protection. Pacheco noted that, in this day and age especially, any mention of a weapon in a school context "really raises eyebrows."
Rebecca tells it differently. When reached Thursday afternoon, she claimed that no administrator has ever ordered her to leave campus or threatened to call police if she didn't. "In fact, they’ve invited me. I volunteer there quite a bit.”
On Wednesday afternoon, she said, she was on her way back to her car following a parent-teacher conference when the officers intercepted her. "The teacher and I get along wonderfully. I was very surprised.”
What about that letter? Did Rebecca threaten to send her son to school armed with a weapon?
Rebecca admits that there was a letter and that it did contain the word "weapon." Her husband Michael wrote it, referring to his son and Rebecca in the third person, but Rebecca co-signed it. She provided a copy to KGUN9 News.
Michael wrote: "Is [son's name deleted] saying he is going to go home to 'hang himself with a belt' (while at school no less) not alarming enough for the staff at MASSA to recognize serious issues of bullying at their precious school? Is it going to take him coming to school with a weapon to defend himself? What will open the administration’s eye to the severity of this problem?"
Rebecca says the words were just rhetoric and were in no way intended as an actual threat to send the third grader to school with a weapon in his pocket. "Not at all. No way."
The letter Rebecca provided to KGUN9 News was dated March 12. Rebecca said that a week went by before the school responded. When it did, she claims no one expressed any concern about her husband's choice of rhetoric. The first hint of the school's displeasure, she said, came Wednesday afternoon, when police intercepted her walking back to her car.
Tucson police confirmed to KGUN9 News that the school had not contacted TPD with any complaints about Rebecca prior to Wednesday. But a spokesperson noted that the school called three times about Rebecca on Wednesday. The first call came in at about 2:30 PM. Two other calls followed, asking for an ETA on the officers' arrival.
Did Rebecca refuse an order to leave campus? Was it just coincidence that Math and Science Success Academy suddenly expressed official alarm about a nine day old letter on the very day Rebecca was going public with her story? With administrators refusing comment, we only have Rebecca's side of the story.
One thing that is clear is that the confrontation has gotten ugly. That is in no way unusual for this type of issue. As noted in previous KGUN9 reports, complaints of bullying often become very emotional and confrontational, on all sides. Many bullying stories, however, never get told. One big reason for that is fear of retaliation. Parents, students and even teachers who contact 9 On Your Side with bullying complaints frequently cite fear of school retaliation as a reason not to go forward with a TV story.
As difficult as it can be to sort out the facts of an individual case, there is little doubt that bullying and cyberbullying is a major crisis facing our local schools. As KGUN9 News has previously reported, Tucson police have said that four area teens have committed suicide in this school year amid bullying issues.
Sometimes when parents feel they've hit a brick wall with administrators and have nowhere else to turn, they ask 9 On Your Side to investigate. Because administrators almost always cite privacy concerns, the stories tend to be one-sided, with the full truth remaining hard to discern. The privacy concerns are real, to an extent. But as we've seen in previous reports, sometimes adminstrators hide behind those concerns, using them as a shield against talking about bullying issues even in general terms.
As for Rebecca, she told KGUN9 News Thursday afternoon that she will curtail her campus visits as directed. But unlike many other parents who've told KGUN9 News that they've had no choice but to pull their kids out of a school to end bullying, Rebecca is not backing down. “I want to stand our ground, and finish out the school year.”
Editor's note: a previous version of this story stated incorrectly that the child was a 5th grader. KGUN9 regrets the error.
9 On Your Side's coverage of this topic will continue. Two unrelated stories on the bullying issue will appear in today's (Friday's) KGUN9 5pm and 6pm newscasts.
Many of KGUN9's viewers have asked that 9 On Your Side not give up the quest for answers and accountability on bullying. We have promised not to let it drop any time soon. We've created a continuing coverage "hot topics" tab for our stories, which can be found here: http://www.kgun9.com/hottopics/bullying/
In addition, we invite our viewers to share their feelings about bullying and cyberbullying. Viewers may add comments to this story in the comments section below, or may post on our KGUN9 Facebook page, which allows for longer comments. (If posting on Facebook, scroll down to find the link and comments section for this story).
Math and Science Success Academy's CEO also issued these guidelines to KGUN9 News, presented below in bold.
MASSA students can report bullying activity to any one of our staff or their parents who may choose to either contact school administration or fill out an anonymous bullying report form available on our website. We encourage parents to download our most updated 2011-2012 student handbook available on our website www.massatucson.org, which has detailed information regarding MASSA's bulling prevention efforts including:
· Reporting Procedures
· School Action
· Training and Education of Staff
· Reprisal and student discipline policies for bullying behavior
Our students are our greatest source of pride; our entire purpose as an organization is to serve our students in the greatest capacity. We will continue to do our very best to ensure the safety of each and every single child at MASSA."