Families share stories of bullying

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JEFFERSON CITY - Scratches, bruises, and the kind of distress that leads to thoughts of suicide - these are the physical and emotional marks described by children who said they were bullied in mid-Missouri schools.

When KOMU 8 News surveyed viewers and asked for personal stories, more than a dozen shared very intimate details. Most often, it was parents speaking on behalf of a child they said was bullied. But in one case, it was a young girl who said things went to the extreme.

The girl, who we will not identify, said her bullying story began in middle school. She said after years of teasing, threatening notes in her locker pushed her over the edge. She said, despite reaching out to school administration, she contemplated suicide, but things did eventually improve.

A Huntsville mother, who also asked to remain anonymous, said bullying is causing her son to be isolated and she worries about the lasting effects.

"You want them to be able to go to the school dances and the football games and have those kind of memories and I'm afraid my son's not going to have those kinds of memories," she said. "I wish I could change things for him."

The mother said bullying has caused her son to withdraw and become increasingly angry, straining their relationship.

"It not only affects things at school but here at home," she said. "We don't have that good communication like we used to because I think to a certain extent he thinks I failed him, too."

Kent and Alycia Dunwiddie, who live in Jefferson City with their two children, reached out to KOMU 8 News after a series of incidents involving their daughter at Thorpe Gordon Elementary School.

Unlike the other families that talked to KOMU 8 News, the Dunwiddies agreed to be identified and said the issue is something they couldn't remain passive about.

"We want it fixed," Kent Dunwiddie said. "Not just for our child, but every other child out there that's getting bullied, picked on so it doesn't lead to further issues down the road."

The Dunwiddies said their child began sharing stories of name calling about a week into this school year. They said a group of kids at school appeared to have targeted their daughter, but the bullying remained relatively minor until she was attacked during a PE class.

"She told me that three kids had hit her, kicked her, scratched her," Kent Dunwiddie said. "You could see the scratch marks, the bruises, her boot was broke and her thumb nail was bleeding."

Following the incident, the Dunwiddies kept their daughter home for one day before sending her back to school. They worked with the Thorpe Gordon principal to have her class changed and to determine what exactly had been going on at school.

But Kent Dunwiddie said there are still problems. "They just tie your hands with it. We'll do our best. We'll watch her, but I'm still getting phone calls."

Alycia Dunwiddie described her daughter as a giving, fun-loving child. She said her daughter loves soccer, arts and crafts and being around people and that characterizing her reaction following the incident was hard to do.

"You're angry, sad, confused," Alycia Dunwiddie said. "The fact that she even got into a fight just blew my mind. The fact that she came home hurt and nobody knew what had happened was frustrating and confusing. It makes you a little untrusting of sending them back to school."

Jefferson City Public Schools released this statement when it learned the Dunwiddies shared their story with KOMU 8 News.

"Unfortunately, state and federal regulations prohibit us as a district from commenting on individual situations dealing with student behavior. That said, the Jefferson City Public Schools take very seriously every incident reported to us - whether it is a case of bullying or students simply not getting along. Our staff works to find a resolution that is in the best interest of every student involved."

Missouri state law requires school districts to establish a written discipline policy and provide a copy of that policy to the pupil and his parent or legal guardian at the beginning of each school year.

The law also mandates staff receive annual training in regard to handling discipline procedures.

It reads:?"The policy of discipline and any interpretations necessary to implement the provisions of the policy in the course of their duties, including but not limited to approved methods of dealing with acts of school violence, disciplining students with disabilities and instruction in the necessity and requirements for confidentiality."

In addition, sections require all school staff to report instances of school violence. One provision defines "act of school violence" or "violent behavior" as actions in which a student intends to do serious harm to another.

Actions that are committed on school property as well as on school busses and during school related functions fall under these protections.

However, a complaint KOMU 8 News heard several times involved the he-said-she-said nature of the problem.

Another mother, who chose to remain anonymous, said she reported an instance at a Columbia elementary school to the Columbia Police Department. She said officers told her without a third-party witness it was one student's word against the other and there was little that could be done.

The Dunwiddies said the staff at Thorpe Gordon has worked to eradicate problems regarding their child, but further emphasis needs to be placed on stopping problems before they arise and insuring repeated problems don't occur.

For more information about bullying visit StopBullying.gov and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's websites.