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Letter to the Editor

Parent complains of inaction of school officials

web posted May 23, 2009
Dear Editor,
This letter to the editor is being published with the hope of soliciting input from other families whose children have been bullied or harassed within the Edgefield County School System. Since moving here in 2007, my youngest son, who has attended middle school within ECSD and now attends Strom Thurmond H.S.  

During his time in middle school, my son has had his clothes forcibly removed (on two occasions); and at STHS vile, contemptible rumors of a sexual nature were spread about him (no basis for truth). 
At first I thought this was a simple act of bullying (most of these incidents have been perpetrated by the same student, though others have joined in).  However, upon further research and obtaining legal counsel, I’m discovering this clearly falls into the category of  Sexual Harassment, not only defined by existing school policy [Students Rights and Responsibilities, Code JI] but also by Federal Civil Rights guidelines [http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/sexhar01.html]. 

On many occasions in speaking with school officials, I had suggested that these actions could be construed as a form of sexual harassment/assault, thus is my admitted ignorance of both policies until today.  At no time did school officials mention that the acts perpetrated upon my son, were in fact, of a Sexual Harassment nature which met the school districts policy requirements. 

Subsequently, my son has had two expensive calculators stolen (the second being the replacement) from his bookpack and after the first incident the school resource officer did not appear to take the incident seriously, when a second theft attempt was made, and my son caught one of the thieves who refused to return his personal property (all this occurring in the middle of an English Class), my son attempted to forcibly regain his property.  This resulted in the subsequent suspension of my son for two days.  No word yet on the status of the thief/sexual harasser.     

At present, the principal refuses to characterize the incidents as anything other than “teasing and picking on.” The principal’s stated claim is that “he didn’t know of the prior incidents.”  Yet the school policy is to refer discipline issues to the Asst Principal as my calls were directed to.  My contention is that the Asst Principal serves as an extension of authority of the Principal…and is thus his agent, ipso facto, the principal knew and thus cannot delegate his responsibility or accountability. The chairwoman of the school board stated that she was “sorry that it’s my family’s perception that my son is being harassed,” and the school superintendent asked my son to participate for a “mutual apology” session with the thief/sexual harasser….for what?  Being the victim?  Unless perpetrators are held solely accountable for their actions, then the situation will not be corrected. 
To date, school officials and the school board appear to be hesitant to take serious actions (e.g. expulsion) against students who have clearly shown a historical pattern of misconduct.  I choose to characterize their actions as “passive indifference.”  A previous principal had bragged to me when I taught at STHS, all he had to do was let the parent “rant and rave” and thus wouldn’t have to do anything and they would go away.  That was one of our former school official’s leadership strategies.  It appears not much is changing or perhaps it’s an organizational mindset.   Imagine the dollar savings if the thugs, bullies and harassers were expelled for the year, ideally class sizes could increase upwards of 50-60 students (e.g. look at college classes of 200).  I further contend that school test scores and grades would most probably increase due to the “distracting students” being removed, thus enabling a more productive environment for learning.
In order to bring pressure upon the school board and school officials, I would ask parents who are enduring bullying, harassment, sexual harassment to contact me with basic information to compile data, which I believe may not be getting recorded and report accurately. 

Because school officials have not been able to due the morally courageous action of calling the unsatisfactory behavior for what it is and correct it, a 15 year old boy has had to demonstrate the “intestinal fortitude” by going public to tell his story.  It’s ironic that the “intestinal fortitude” so desired by school board members in their appointed officials is so lacking in theirs and the school officials actions.  I sincerely ask for you and your student’s help in bringing pressure upon our elected and appointed officials.  Let’s not forget, they are our public servants.

Please send me your input at markjebens@bellsouth.net

Mark S. Jebens, LtCol USMC (Ret.)
Merriwether, SC

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