By Pat Maurer
Two Farwell parents have said they are concerned over incidents of bullying at the high school recently.
Heather Smith (formerly Pardo) said her 17 year-old son was involved in and injured in a fight January 18. “He ended up being taken to the hospital in an ambulance,” she said. “He was assaulted by a 15 year-old in the hallway of the high school.”
“Something needs to be done,” she continued. “This is not the first time. It has been going on. My children and other are always talking about students being picked on.” She said the same 15 year-old and a friend of his assaulted her son in a bathroom just a few months ago.
“When I talked to the Superintendent after the January 18 incident I was told, ‘We are doing what we can’.”
“I have had enough,” Smith continued. “This has gone too far. In spite of the anti-bullying meetings, or assemblies, this isn’t getting any better.”
She said her son fought back and was suspended for five days “for defending himself. I don’t know what discipline was taken against the other student.”
Asked what she would like to see done, she said, “If they (the school) have a bullying issue and someone tells them, they should take it seriously instead of telling them (the student) to ignore it. Obviously that isn’t working. The handbook says they have a ‘zero tolerance’ for bullying. They should enforce it and kick them out of school.”
She said she has tried talking to the principals multiple times. “If I have to get a PPO to resolve this I will, but I still feel like I am beating my head against a brick wall. I’ve talked to other parents who have taken their children out of school and are home-schooling them because of this problem.”
Another parent, Pepper Guzman, who has three children in Farwell High and Middle Schools, told of her own concerns over her ninth grade daughter’s problems with bullying.
She cited several incidents since the beginning of the school year including one at a football game instigated by a Flint teenager. She said her daughter has been subject to name calling and incidents by 11th and 12 graders including one where one of a group of students harassing her threw a milk carton at her. In another incident she said a pregnancy test package was thrown at her daughter.
“The problem is my daughter is getting bullied. I go to the school and complain about it but nothing is getting done and she is depressed over it, angry and upset. I thought the Superintendent and truancy officer were there for the students.”
She said her daughter was suspended Wednesday because during the weekend she had texted a student that had been spreading rumors about her and threatened to ‘beat her up’. Guzman said, “I called the other student’s parents and thought we had the issue taken care of. Today I got a phone call and was told that my daughter was suspended for ten days for harassment/bullying, insubordinate/disrespect, disruptive, disorderly and threatened another student physically. They never even mentioned that she was being bullied.”
“My daughter is an honor roll student,” she said. “The principal suggested she would do better in the alternative education school because she was ‘not adapting well to high school’. I’m not even considering that. I’m not sure I even want her to go back to Farwell High School.”
Superintendent Carl Seiter said he understands how parents feel when incidents happen. He said, “I honestly feel we have handled the incidents with both of these students and that the proper discipline has been handed out.”
“We want students to report incidents [of bullying] rather than resort to physical action,” he said. “We can’t help if the students that are being bullied don’t tell us. Unfortunately most students are afraid of being called a tattle-tale and are more likely to tell their parents than us, but if we know about it, we are going to do everything we can to stop it. No child should be subjected to bullying.”
School Liaison Officer Erica Vredevelt said the procedure followed when bullying is reported includes determining if it is a “criminal” case; if it is harassment, stalking or assault and battery or is cyber bullying if it involves using a computer, cell phone or other electronic device. “That is a five-year felony,” she said.
“If it is a school situation, I talk to both students and let them know that if it continues it could involve criminal charges.” A first step, she said, is to see if both students, the one being bullied and the victim will sign a “mediation agreement” with the school that agrees to stop the problem. Both students have to agree. Then if the bullying continues, action can be taken to stop it.
“If they don’t both agree, I let them know that the next step may be a ‘criminal’ matter,” she added. “We do everything we can.”
Seiter said, “In fact our own kids are working to try and stamp out bullying.”
He continued, saying Vredevelt, together with senior Travis White and State Police Trooper Mike White have developed a video presentation and cyber bullying suicide prevention presentation.
The program Travis White, Vredevelt and Trooper White are participating in a special program involving a video presentation developed by Travis and all three talking about bullying, cyber bullying, and suicide prevention followed by an open forum. The program was held in Farwell November 4 and in Harrison December 9.
A modified version of the program without the open forum was held at Clare’s Pioneer High School Wednesday and a presentation followed by individual group participation will be held at Clare High School and Clare Middle School on February 16.
Erica said at the presentation, she talks about “how I am here to help and I can’t do that if you don’t let me know what is going on.” She said she discusses ways to help prevent suicides through well-being checks and awareness – and just talking to each other.
Travis explains about bullying, cyber bullying and suicide statistics; that eight to 12 percent of students have thought about suicide because of social problems.
Trooper White talks about self-image, how students can and should feel good about themselves.
To complement the efforts in Farwell to reduce the incidents of bullying, Vredevelt said The school has recently adopted the “Power of 100” from Swartz Creek, who reported a notable decrease in bullying incidents since they began using it a year and a half ago. The program involves regular meetings that will be held on the first and third Wednesdays of the month in Farwell where students and staff talk about what is happening in the schools and what can be done about it. The first meeting was just held January 20 and 44 students participated, Vredevelt said. The next meeting will be February 1 after school. “Students that can’t attend can still participate on a “Power of 100” Facebook page that recently started where students can post their comments and tell their experiences.”