Scared at school: Parents accuse MPS of not taking bullying seriously

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MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- If you're troubled by the current state of public education, you might still be shocked by what's happening to some students on their way home from school.

"We couldn't get Asia to go back to school," says Asia's mom, Angela Odom. Asia, a sophomore at Madison High School, was in a fight on her school bus earlier this year. She was on her way home from school when she says she was being bullied by a classmate.

That classmate, who Asia says had been picking on her and "getting in her face," stunned Asia repeatedly with a stun gun, before the bus driver kicked both girls off the bus.

Angie Odom says her daughter isn't just a victim of bullying,  but a school district that doesn't seem to care.

bully sign"I think we do take it seriously," says Mary Esser, Coordinator of Psychological Services and Allied Health for Milwaukee Public Schools.

"Nobody from MPS has called me, emailed me, mailed me a letter. Nobody has done anything," Odom insists.

And she's not alone. Nearly every day, the Fox 6 Investigators get emails about children being bullied; desperate parents claiming school districts aren't taking their concerns seriously.

"'Her principal basically made it seem like it wasn't a big deal," says mom Cassandra Haywood.

Her daughter was just using the restroom at Hi-Mount Middle School when two girls broke into her stall and took a video of her urinating.

"I was really scared because I didn't know who they were going to show the video to," says her daughter.

bully 1Later that day, it was posted on Facebook.

"I'm seeing my daughter telling them to stop go away, and trying to hold the door closed and they are taunting her," Haywood recalls.

Haywood says she told school administrators about the video right away, but she wasn't satisfied with how they handled the situation. Her daughter still has to be in class every day with one of the bullies who she says  still taunts her.

"They are not telling me anything and you're allowing my daughter to be in an unsafe environment," Haywood says.

"I feel like you do not care about the overall safety of my child."

Milwaukee Public Schools, though, insists their goal is that every child in the district is safe. "That is what we will work with every parent to make happen," Esser says.

Most of the complaints we get come from parents who have children in Milwaukee Public Schools. Parents like Tina Rauch, who says she's been forced to take things into her own hands.

"I have been driving my kid to and from school since last week Tuesday," Rauch told us back in March.

Rauch has missed more than five days of work trying to make sure her son Dylan, who has special needs, got to class safely at Alcott Middle School.

bully 3"I fear for him every day," Rauch says.

She asked MPS to put him on a new bus route, but the school said that would take some time.

It was the last straw for Rauch, who says her son has been repeatedly bullied by another boy on the bus and in the classroom.

He's been hit in the face with basketballs in the gym class and most recently, bitten on the arm. Police have documented all of it.

"That was four times in four weeks that this kid has put his hands on my son and the principal isn't doing anything about it," Rauch says.

These are just three example out of more than 10,000 incidents that have been reported in Milwaukee Public Schools in the last three years.

gym class

"On my son's classroom door they have an anti-bullying thing posted right there, so they have signs all around the school," Rauch says.

"It's like if you stress so much about anti-bullying then why are you letting bullies get away with it? It makes no sense to me."

It was a Peabody Award-winning Fox 6 Investigation into school bullying that led to the passage of a new state law in 2010.

That law requires districts to keep track of bullying data, so we wanted to see what some of the largest districts had reported since then.

According to data released by five of the biggest local school districts, 3% of all students in Kenosha have reported being bullied in the last three years: It's 4% in Waukesha, 7% in West Allis, 8% in Racine and 13% in Milwaukee Public Schools.

Some of those complaints may have come from the same students, so actual percentages may vary.

But, statistically speaking, it means about an average of one out of every eight MPS students claims to have been bullied in the last three years.

"It should be unacceptable. I mean we have children committing suicide because of bullying. What are we gonna do about it?" says Odom.

"School have got to do things differently," says Jeff Taylor, principal at West Allis Intermediate School.

Taylor says his school is doing things a little bit differently.classroom 3

It's not just about the anti-bullying pledges on the wall, or the videos teachers make for students at the beginning of the year.

It's not even about the celebration of anti-bullying day the last Friday of every month.

It's about bulling being called out for what it is -- even the  first time it happens.

"It's not like we're waiting to see if a behavior is repeated before we intervene," says Dan Weast, Director of Student Services for the West Allis School District.

"We want our people to respond as if this was happening to their own children."

At MPS, the first time a student is bullied, it's treated as a minor offense.

The district's code of school conduct ranks different types of misbehavior on scale of one to four, with four being the most serious, resulting in expulsion.

But the first incident of bullying is often treated as a number one -- the same as being late for class.documents 1

"That doesn't mean we aren't taking it seriously. We do," Esser says.

In fact, MPS says they take it so seriously, they've cut the number of reported incidents in half from 3,215 last year, to fewer than 1,300 so far this year.

But that may have more to do with how MPS has started defining bullying incidents.

"There are situations of normal childhood conflict, which should also be taken seriously. But they may not rise to the level of bullying," Esser explains.

Since last Spring, MPS says teachers and administrators have been encouraged to distinguish between bullying and "typical kid stuff." As a result, the number of reported bullying incidents has dramatically declined. Only 2% of MPS students were bullied this year, compared to 4% last year, according to the latest data available.

That's of cold comfort to parents, who say they just want their own kids to be safe at school.

"We as parents need somewhere to go and somebody to help us and they let us down," Haywood says.

"I would say those cases indicate that we still have room to improve," Esser says.

MPS admits that in some of these cases, there was a communication breakdown with parents. But because of privacy laws, schools can't tell parents what punishment a bully might receive.

That has left some parents frustrated, and students refusing to return to school.

"It is frustrating when you have a person in the schools saying well we can't tell you about this, that's a frustrating thing," says Principal Taylor.

"But yyou know you'll find that if you're talking these things out, parents do understand," he insists.

But that doesn't mean they will be able to convince their kids to go back to school.

"It makes me not want to go to school really because I have already been through enough," says Asia, who was attacked on her school bus. "She told me she was going to kill me, so, and I believed her."

21 comments

  • Lorea

    Im surprised at the lack of reaction in some of these highlighted cases. These days, sharing a video of a girl urinating woyld normally result in criminal charges. At the very least, it would be considered a form of sexual harassment. Also, the incident involving a stun gun should have resulted in mediate police involvement. If these consequences are not occurring, then the district has some liability concerns to consider.

  • GloriaR

    Songs can teach children about kindness and tolerance to try to help combat bullying. The song “Be a Buddy, not a Bully” can be heard on YouTube:

  • Terry

    you forget that a certain section of people in this community are NEVER held accountable for their actions, thats why the numbers here are higher than the other areas mentioned, when YOU let govt raise your children this is the kind of result you will see..

  • Paul A Winter

    Bullying needs to be taken VERY serously even for the first offence. A local school in my commuity a concerned parent has the same problem. The principal does not seem to care. If a student gets bullied even for the first time, the bully should receive an automatic expulsion from school.

  • Jessica

    I have a special needs son whom dealt with being bullied repeatedly including being sprayed in the face with an aerosol can which could have caused irrevocable damage. I as his mother was never contacted by the principal from this mps school on any of these incidents. My son was afraid to tell me what was happening. He attempted to handle the situation him self and was immediately expelled and NOTHING happened to the other students ever! MPS does the minimal footwork for everything including education they provide. I would never excuse my son for reacting how he had. But he followed the steps to which he was told to by reporting it and nothing was ever done. I have considered placing him with a virtual school just to avoid MPS all together. After all this was settled my son was placed in an MPS based “day treatment” school because he has special needs. This “school” is worse with kids who have been kicked out for way more serious acts as well as still committing acts including violence and robberies and I am required to take my son there everyday! The curriculum is a joke. My son was physically attacked shortly after starting there and the police officer basically told me that well if you press charges your son will be in trouble as well! He. Did nothing to the other kid to have his head smashed into the wall with the teacher standing right there! Found out that officer was already passed her end time and because of all the shootings she has put in so much overtime and so basically she told me my son would also get in trouble so I wouldn’t file….less paper work. There’s no hope at this point for schools to recover any sort of dignity with the way things are being handled. But, it’s ok, the second my other son was late on his lunch account at the same school his brother was kicked out of, the principal and the social worker called as well as the administration building to inform us multiple times until it was paid. I suppose that takes preference of a child being sprayed in the face with and aerosol can.

  • Bettie Mader

    I don’t believe for ONE SECOND that the MPS is doing all they can regarding bullying. Just as I don’t believe for one second the outlying areas are doing all they can. Parents and students NEED to know exactly where they can get help regarding this alarming trend of bullying. They can’t go to the school, heaven for bid THEY get involved. They need a place to go to who will be interactive in the situation, and make sure they bully received adequate punishment for what they do. It has to be more than the “two” people getting kicked off of the bus, or out of the lunch line. Obviously, the people that are doing this don’t care enough to take it one step further. I’ll tell you something. When my son was in school, it I even THOUGHT that he may be involved in something like this, he would KNOW not to continue his behavior. I witnessed, without him seeing me, him stick up for a kid that was being bullied by one of his friends. He told him to knock it off, pushed him away, and helped the kid up. I have never been so proud of him, and he still doesn’t know I had seen him do that. I just tell him every day how proud of him I am.

    Everyone…teachers, school bus drivers, other students, parents, and anyone that witnesses this, should feel it’s their duty to get involved.

  • Sheila Moyet

    If the children are not being taught respect at home it is almost a lost battle. It all begins with the parenting. Remember, many of these parents are not much older than their children. Teens having babies don’t make real good parents.

    • Jessica

      You can lay blame in what ever you choose….There are many things involved that could be blamed and yes there is truth to what you say but not all fall into that categorie! And children are subjected to peers very early on in age and if you can’t trust that a teacher can properly intercede as the parents have dropped them off for their education at the school in trust that it is handled properly then the children can easily learn that behavior. Teachers are overwhelmed, especially in an overpopulated area, have many limitations, and quite a few are either not wanting to get involved or are too scared to do so. There’s a side to everything.

  • Lisa

    I know for a fact that MPS does not act on bullying. Not to mention neither does the Seeds of Health schools!!!!!! SOMETHING NEEDS TO GIVE! Parents should feel at ease while their kids are in school.

  • Kaye77

    Almost any teacher who says that they are NOT made aware of a child in their classroom who is being bullied is actually telling a bold faced lie! While very little action is actually taken most of the time it is definitely no secret. Each school should have a proram set in place to educate educators, students, as well as parents on ways to detect bullying. This is such a serious situation and it’s ridiculous that not much is being done about it especially within our schools which is where the majority of kids are being bullied.

  • Giovanni

    I have been bullied ever since I was in 3rd grade and I am still getting picked on even though I am in 7TH GRADE! Mps did nothing of the sort even though they contacted my family. The principle did nothing that helped with the situation and going with the ADHD and Autisim I have, difficulty of working while being threatened by people was UNNACCEPTABLE! And this so called “School” is an excuse and I really think that the family’s of the Teens/Children should not go to this school. I mean, take it from a 14 year-old that get’s bullied, MPS is the worst place for an education.

  • Angela Odom

    who is Mary Esser cause i haven’t heard from her or noone else my daughter was chased down like an animal and this aint over before it’s all over they will lmow my name very well

  • Shakita

    My child has been bullied for the whole school year I have had numerous of meetings with parents and the principal but nothing is ever resolved if you bully students you should be expelled and sent to alternative school because its clear they have a problem. There should be an example made out of children who bully other children nothing ever gets done until we see that a child has taken there life due to being bullied at school.

    • Paul A Winter

      I agree, they should be expelled for several days. Also schools should be required to have a non tolerance bullying policy.

  • Robin Davis

    This is why my 16 yr daughter with autism is doing online in the fall due to the bullying, lack of communication with school staff, not being informed when problems arise until a week later then she gets suspended. She mimics what she hears and sees around her. Bus issue is a major concern she has door to door. She has older brother who also on that bus and he informs me of everything that goes on and what goes on at school. He tells me about the code yellows and lock downs. I had enough with the school environment I can’t watch my daughter pull out more of her hair anymore she has a bald spot that is very noticeable due to the school stressor’s. I am waiting on open enrollment letters to come in the mail suppose to be mailed out today so any day now will find out if she got accept in 3 of the online schools as I can’t deal with the awful things that go on in MPS high schools. Luckily my son is able to handle himself even though he is special needs he is able to know what to do the other day he was bullied in the bathroom requesting him to give his iphone 5 to him and he said no but then he try to block him from leaving so he just barge thru and then the student said I was only kidding he didn’t take it that way to him it was serious. He did what he thought was right and not let someone scare him to giving up his phone to them. He wants to continue there so he can get his diploma there so I will allow him to but I am more concern about his sister and her safety. It isn’t like it was when I went there 30 years ago. Our kids are not safe and when you got metal detectors and hand scanners plus security guards feels more like a prison than a school. I hate when I have to go pick up my kids for a dr appt and have to walk thru the detectors and put your purse thru the xray machine what is this airport now or courthouse that is where these machines are suppose to be seems invasion of your privacy they can see everything inside your belongings. Wow first students and now parents get scanned I call that crazy!

  • Johnna C

    My mom has worked at MPS for almost 2 decades. And YES there are absolutely issues within the schools, HOWEVER bullying starts at home. Most likely these kids that are doing the bullying are being bullied themselves (by family members) or they are witnessing it at home. I become very frustrated when parents will defend their child if they are pushing people around, instead of taking responsibility and correcting the behavior. Schools can only do so much, parents have to be the role models and the responsible ones who step in and address the behavior with the child. At MPS there are no consequences for behaviors and the students know this. I have heard some of the worst, fowl, aggressive things come out of the students mouths at MPS schools. And I know they learned it somewhere. So please please please do not forget the role that family plays in a child’s life! Change starts at home, do not place the blame on the wrong people.

  • girlygirl

    I go to Mps right now currently as a Junior. Throughout all my years of being in mps I can totally agree with these parents . Ive witnessed a lot of horrible situations and watched the teachers and principles do nothing but laugh and ignore. These teachers aren’t here to help us their here to get paid. I would never ever ever send my child or recommend someone else to send their children to MPS. its horrible believe me . I am currently trying to get accepted to Menonomee Falls or Wauwatosa West anything BUT MPS !!!

  • Giovanni

    Even a more bad part for me is that my little sister has to go to the school i am currently in and I in fact, fear for her because of what may happen to her when she’s in 3rd grade. I really do not want my sister to get hurt by anybody AT ALL! And in my opinion (cant spell it right), MPS is the worst to trust in bullying situations.

  • Jessica

    I completely understand how this mother feels, I do not think school take it more serious as they should. Kids have no consequences for there actions so they will keep doing it. My daughter has been bullied since she has been in kindergarden now in second grade and all the school, superintendent, police and legal aide tell me is there isn’t anything they can do because of there age. So they can threaten harm to my daughter spit, kick, hit, swear and call her names make her be in fear of going to school or the bus just because of there age. The principle admitted the kids admitted what they have done to my daughter and other things I did not know about but felt not to inform me.

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