Mother of Bullied Child Blasts Natrona County School Board
A mother told the Natrona County School District board of trustees on Monday that it failed to justly deal with her and her 12-year-old daughter who was assaulted by three girls on a school bus.
"Outraged parents are fed up by the way bullying is handled in the schools," Amber O'Donnell said during the public comment period at the board meeting.
"Current policies are not effective, and it's time for them to change," O'Donnell said.
After the meeting, she said Her daughter, Caitlin Jonckers, was the victim of bullying on a bus on Oct. 2, and was assaulted after she got off the bus and told the girls to stop and leave her alone.
"Because she confronted them, she was deemed the aggressor by the police and by the school district, and they suspended her along with the bullies, and they also want her to take a different bus route because they said to remove the other bully girls from the bus route would be inconvenient for them," O'Donnell said.
She was incredulous when the authorities gave her this explanation, she said. "You think the way things should be handled is common sense; it's very disappointing when you find out that it's not."
Caitlin had to go to the emergency room because she was vomiting and shaking, she suffered a severe concussion from being hit repeatedly in the head, has been out of school for almost two months, is undergoing physical therapy, and had a toe broken, O'Donnell said.
Several weeks ago, she tried to commit suicide, she said.
O'Donnell didn't know what punishments the bullies received, but they were not removed from the bus, she said.
During the meeting, O'Donnell outlined steps the board could take to deal with bullying:
- Stop treating the victim as part of the problem when they stand up for themselves.
- Prosecute juvenile bullies for assault as adults.
- Stop referring to victims who stand up for themselves as aggressors.
- Implement training for staff so they can better and quickly communicate with parents.
- Be transparent with parents, who should be allowed to view video of the bullying event as evidence.
- Stop giving victims the same punishment as the bullies.
- Remove bullies from classrooms.
- Use available community resources to combat bullying.
O'Donnell presented a petition to the board from parents calling for changes.
She also wants the board to release the entire video of the Oct. 2 event, which will help hold those accountable, she said.
"This would also put an end to the school district continuing to shape and imply their own false narrative," she said. The narrative has led to a smear campaign of her daughter, she said.
Another parent, Justin Hathaway, told the trustees students won't talk to their teachers about being bullied because the teachers won't do anything.
The trustees responded to their comments by saying the district takes bullying seriously, has been frustrated by what it can do, and has recently revised its policy in September.
Clark Jensen said he was bullied as a child and sympathizes with the parents. "I wish there was a quick fix."
Bullying is a reflection of the society as a whole, and a policy on paper can't do much without a cultural change, Jensen said.
Dana Howie, who led the effort to revise the policy, said trustees did not receive much response from the public. At a Sept. 10 work session to hear public comments on the revised policy, only one person spoke, she said.
"We will keep working on it," Howie said.
Kevin Christopherson agreed that Caitlin Jonckers was harmed. He'd like to see the video be released but somehow edited to protect the bullies' identities, he said. "I don't want to see their names drug through the mud."
After the meeting, O'Donnell said she was still frustrated by the trustees' responses, adding some of their comments sounded like they were trying to placate her.
"I feel that there's like a lot of talk but not a lot of action," she said. "A lot of it with the schools -- something bad has to happen before something is actually done. It's reactive instead of proactive."