Parents and students attended the Nov. 18 Gasconade County R-2 Board of Education to address an apparent bullying incident that was recorded on the Owensville Middle School playground and began …
Parents and students attended the Nov. 18 Gasconade County R-2 Board of Education to address an apparent bullying incident that was recorded on the Owensville Middle School playground and began circulating late Nov. 6.
Board President Glenn Ely addressed 12 or so meeting goers who were specifically present for the issue. Debbie Donatti and Terry Andrade were the only two parents who signed up to speak at the meeting. Ely advised the group that they would hear from the two parents, who would each have three minutes to present to the board.
“I want to thank you for taking the time to come here this evening,” Ely began. “We understand to be effective administrators and boards, we need to hear a new voices. I understand some may be here to address a recent incident that occurred on school grounds. As most of you are aware, the board of education cannot discuss student information in open session. Therefore the board will not be participating in the discussion or any related matters during this meeting.”
Ely warned that a FIRPA law prohibits student names or information that would identify a student from being used, and that prevents the board from asking student-specific questions and incidences in open session.
“Discussion must be extremely limited to procedures, policies, suggestions for improvement or other topics related in general to student conduct and supervision. We invite you to do so,” Ely said. “As parents and students, we are setting examples for all those involved, and should be respectful.”
Donatti began by addressing the board that she felt bullying is a big problem in the district.
“I am hoping that bringing some ideas before the board, we can be more proactive as parents, and help teachers to eliminate some of that,” she said. “Our own experience has been excessive.”
Donatti asked if they could find more ways for parents to be involved in the process of the school.
“Are they volunteering, can we offer to mentor, or participate in some anti-bullying programs for students?” she asked. “I think that would be really helpful, because a lot of times parents don’t know how to deal with it either.”
She also asked about how they use social media in the school.
“Most of us didn’t go through that and we don’t know how to deal with it,” she said. “I am wondering if there is a way we can limit what types of apps children have access to while they are on school property? Some schools have even limited the use or banned the use of phones during school hours. I am wondering if something like that can be talked about or pulled up.”
Donatti said she feels that the school has some good teachers, and principals.
“Mr. Altemeyer is terrific and I am so happy that he is our principal,” she said, mentioning other teachers and principals who have been doing a great job. “They’re overwhelmed, I believe and I think they may need extra help.”
Donatti asked if they could consider programs like the Megan Meyer Foundation. She said she has talked to Tina Meyer who runs it.
“Her daughter committed suicide because of bullying, and she has a program where they can come to the school,” Donatti said. “My thought is with that, it’s taking some of that stress and burden off the teachers and getting extra help from people — that’s what they do. They know tools we may not have access to, and they know ways to talk to the kids that they may be able to respond better.”
Donatti says she hopes to get a response on the topic and learn about ways to go forward.
Andrade was next to speak.
“I have observed, as an outsider looking in, at the policies and the problems,” Andrade began. “With the staff, children and parents. I have worked in the education field, so I am very familiar with it.”
The Andrade family is from California and said they have had this type of trouble before, and worked on solutions. Andrade said she has worked as a psychologist and special education teacher.
“The biggest solution is the kids feel they can’t go to staff because they feel like they are unreachable or feel like they are going to be a snitch. The problem is the parents get overwhelmed, go in, scream and yell, instead of trying to take the time, go in there with a cup of coffee with that principal and talk to that principal. And calm yourself down, because a lot of times, educators cannot tell the parents about the students.”
Andrade advised the administrators and parents to “put their hair down, put their tennis shoes on and go interact with the kids so the kids know the teachers are approachable.
“It is a problem on all three sides,” she added. “Forget that old saying that kids should be seen and not heard. Teach our kids to speak up and have a voice and that it is ok.”
She suggested administrators talk to the kids about their ideas and get an ALD room (after lunch detention) so they have to watch their friends socialize, knowing they can’t be out there.
“I guarantee you 90 percent of that bullying is going to stop because all kids want to socialize,” she said. “I think the biggest problem is lack of communication among everybody not coming together. Kids think it’s kids against the adults.”
Ely responded by saying everyone has a stake in making sure everyone is safe.
“I think you hit on there that it is a conversation involving all stakeholders, and it’s important that conversation starts and continues,” Ely said. “I don’t think there is a universal answer. The conversation is the interval part of it.”
Ely encouraged anyone who has suggestions to submit them, and said the situation has brought a lot of attention to the subject in the community.
The board did not take action.
Andrade said after the meeting that she didn’t want the situation to be a bad experience.
“It was kids that was innocent, just caught in the middle and made mistakes,” Andrade said. “A lot of times people don’t understand what is going on.”
Andrade said she is the mother to the girl in the video who was being bullied. She added that the video was the first time her daughter met her IEP (In Education Planning) goal to not fight back.
“She wasn’t in trouble,” Andrade said of her daughter after the situation was released. “She did nothing wrong. The video was shared because others were concerned about her.”
Other parents at the meeting said their children had told them about other kids bullying the girl in the video. Carrie Zapryanov said she had made several calls to the school about her child’s comments in regards to the situation.
“It helps to show kids compassion and empathy,” Zapryanov said.
Andrade’s middle school son Bernard, suggested the school create a YouTube video that explains bullying.
“Parents need to take a step back, take a deep breath and think about what led up to the situation,” Andrade said. “My heart goes out to the other kids too. Use this for positive change.”
Donatti said the situations she has been dealing with since her daughter was in middle school has escalated to a restraining order against her daughter’s bully. “Bullying seems to seek out the one child that is not quite right and pounce,” Donatti said. “I live in fear, too, that something bad will happen.”
Andrade said she could be angry, “but I choose not to be. Use this as an educational situation. It stopped a lot of bullying. It needed to stop somewhere.”