LANCASTER – Steven was a daily target for bullies. They kicked him, punched him, pushed him and called him names every single day, he said. One day Steven ran away to avoid being hit, but a friend-turned-bully pushed him to the ground mid-run, and Steven sustained the worst injuries he’s ever had. With his arm and leg scraped up and bleeding, he headed to the nurse. This was not his first visit, or his last.
“It’s really hard to be hit every single day…it’s just a really bad feeling,” Steven said. “I really just got beaten down every day verbally or physically.”
Steven was not the only kid at Lincoln Elementary being bullied, said his mother Linda Gilstrap, who has since pulled her son out of the school. Gilstrap said other kids were bullied, but not everyone reported it or even wanted to address it.
“It seems like there’s an atmosphere of don’t talk about it or don’t bring it up kind of thing, especially here in Lancaster with the mayor saying this is a safer place and everything,” Gilstrap said. “Well not if you’re in school, it’s not a safer place.”
Steven had to learn survival to get through the day without having someone hit him or push him, and that is just the physical aspect of it, Gilstrap said.
The principal, Kyra Van Acker, as well as teachers, told Steven to simply ignore the verbal bullying, Gilstrap said.
“You can ignore a remark but you can’t ignore a day in and day out barrage of insults,” Gilstrap said. “It’s not sticks and stones can break my bones and words can never hurt me. Words hurt and sometimes the wounds from words can last longer than the bruises.”
The teachers said Steven brought on the bullying by his own behavior, Gilstrap said. Steven’s 4th grade teachers, Victoria Langenohl and Candy Haser, could not be reached for comment.
New anti-bullying laws, which went into effect Jan. 1, 2012, help more easily define and identify bullying. Assembly Bill (AB) 746 states bullying, including cyber bullying, is grounds for suspension or expulsion. Bullying is defined as “one or more acts of sexual harassment, hate violence, or intentional harassment, threats, or intimidation, directed against school district personnel or pupils, committed by a pupil or group of pupils,” according to the California Education Code.
Seth’s Law (AB 9) strengthens existing policies in California schools by requiring that all schools have an anti-bullying policy and, more importantly, the law enacts a time line that school officials must follow when investigating student claims of bullying. Seth’s Law will go into effect July 1, 2012.
“If I were in a work environment… and my coworkers were making comments to me, insults to me…doing anything to me, I’d have a lawsuit because it’s a hostile work environment,” Gilstrap said.
Chesney Logeman Lee said her son was getting bullied every day at Lincoln Elementary, as well. The kids would wait for her son just so they could call him names and hit him, she said.
“I felt as a parent I let my son down,” Logeman Lee said. “I’ve never experienced this in my life.”
Logeman Lee said she felt as if the bullying problem was not being addressed correctly. She added that in trying to interact with the principal, it seemed as if the principal didn’t care.
“During a meeting I had with the school psychologist and the principal, she wasn’t really there, and engaged in anything,” Logeman Lee said. “To me that’s totally backwards.”
Principal Kyra Van Acker could not be reached for comment.
“Instead of dealing with the problem, they would tell them to sit in the office or go to the library during recess,” Logeman Lee said.
Deputy Superintendent of the Lancaster School District Michelle Bowers said she wants to assure parents that something is being done about the bullying.
“We absolutely treat every incident with the utmost concern and do complete full investigations and take everything seriously,” Bowers said.
The administrators and school psychologists, as well as supervisors and administration, have been trained specifically on how to address bullying and how to de-escalate situations, Bowers said. Outside organizations come in and do assemblies with the students that address bullying also, she added.
“We have people who have been victims of bullies…that come in and talk about the effects of bullying,” Bowers said. “Either as feeling that they’ve been bullied or from being a bully themselves and kind of looking back on that with regret and sharing with the students that it’s not a good idea.”
Throughout the course of the current school year, Bowers said she has only heard from 10 different families out of about 15,000 students about their child being bullied. However, these numbers represent only those incidents that have been brought to Bower’s attention.
“Some of those families have called multiple times, but it’s not as though I’m bombarded with a number of calls every day by any stretch of the imagination,” Bowers said. “I don’t believe that this is a widespread concern, but if it’s a concern for one child, we want to make sure it’s addressed.”
Students need to make sure they understand what bullying is and the appropriate way to respond to it, she said. The first step to address the problem is to respond to the bullies by saying, ‘Please stop,’ and the next step is to tell an adult.
This method doesn’t always work.
For example, Steven said he once told someone who was bullying a friend to stop hitting him, but the bully turned around and smacked him in the eye for defending his friend.
“Some of the kids at school chicken out,” Steven said, “and become the bully’s minions because they’re scared of the bullies and don’t want to get beaten themselves.”
Gilstrap added that this was very alarming to her because it teaches a gang mentality.
“That’s how gangs work,” Gilstrap said. “You get jumped and you join a gang because it’s protection. And to me that’s what these kids are learning at a much younger age, that in order to get protection themselves they join up with the kids that are doing it and that was very alarming to me.”
The kids who are getting bullied start to feel like they have to fight back, said Logeman Lee.
“Sometimes I feel like he (my son) likes to bully because he has to stick up for himself,” Logeman Lee said. “It’s changed the way he’s looked at school.”
“But there’s hope,” Gilstrap said. “It seems like some of the principals over there at their schools, they really are working to make a difference. One in particular is Tumbleweed over in Palmdale.”
Jezelle Fullwood, principal of Tumbleweed Elementary, said the school has several plans in place to help prevent bullying.
Tumbleweed has implemented a BEST (Building Effective Schools Together) program with the motto of “Be safe, be respectful and be responsible.”
The BEST discipline program includes regular assemblies as well as a rewards system, Fullwood said. She added that students and teachers can text or email her whenever they do see bullying so it can be addressed immediately.
Gilstrap said she feels better about how Lincoln is handling the bully situation now even though she has pulled her son out of Lincoln school, and has gone back to homeschooling.
“I do feel good that by speaking out and other parents speaking out…(we) have made a difference there because the district has stepped in and is making changes there,” Gilstrap said.
Some of those changes include reaching out to Jeremiah Project 51 and holding fundraisers, which will provide funds to anti-bullying efforts. Jeremiah Project 51, a non-profit organization dedicated to stopping school bullying, was started by a parent whose 14-year-old son took his life because of the bullying and harassment he endured on a daily basis at school.