ASHLAND — Two parents voiced concerns about districtwide bullying Monday night at the Southern Boone Board of Education meeting.
The school board began its regularly scheduled Monday meeting with a moment of silence for Ashland senior Jacob Meadows. His death last week raised rumors of bullying that were later resolved by his father's letter.
"Whether Jacob Meadows' death was a direct link to being bullied in the school, I don’t know, but what I do know for certain is that this school district has a significant problem with it," Nikki Courtney, the mother of a recent Southern Boone High School graduate, told to the board.
Nikki Courtney urged swift action in the form of "definitive consequences" to end bullying, which affected her daughter.
"Children are bullied, and then when they retaliate after talking with teachers and principals and going to appropriate authorities, they fight back, and then they are suspended — there is something severely wrong with that," Nikki Courtney said. "We don’t send our children to school in order for them to have to stick up for themselves."
Although her daughter, Logan Courtney, does not attend an Ashland public school anymore, Nikki Courtney's concern is shaping her decision of where to eventually send her 3-year-old son. Her plan is to send him to Columbia Independent School.
Board President Ellen Kesterson and Superintendent Chris Felmlee both told Nikki Courtney their doors are open to parents with concerns like hers. Kesterson encouraged Nikki Courtney to reach out to Felmlee, who is new to the district, to make sure the administration and the board do what is right.
"I feel very confident that any changes or anything that needs to be addressed, Mr. Felmlee will make sure they will happen," Kesterson said. "The school board and the administration take bullying very seriously."
Felmlee said he will look at current procedures and concerns openly and honestly with the school board, administration and parents to see if something better can be done.
"Our goal is the same as yours — we want what’s best and possible for our kids," Felmlee said.
Bullying at school is only one concern, board member Joe Miller said. He named texting, Facebook and Twitter as other places in which bullying occurs.
"It used to be bullying happening at school, and teachers, administrators thought they could deal with it," Miller said. "Now it happens away from the school in ways we have no way of tracking, and that makes it difficult for the school, on parents even, to identity when bullying occurs. That’s a societal issue, not a school district issue, and how we deal with that as a society, as a whole, is difficult to do."
But bullying still happens face to face, Ashland parent Sandra Johnson told the board.
"My daughter would go to the teacher, and the teacher would say, 'Oh, well, just deal with it,' or, 'You need to learn to get along,'" Johnson said.
After the meeting, Logan Courtney, who graduated from Southern Boone High School last year and now attends Columbia College, recounted what she saw at Southern Boone Middle School and her own experiences being bullied through social media.
She said four middle school girls were bullied by a group of eight other girls in 2012. She first learned about it from one of the bullying victims, who was her boyfriend's sister.
"I walked upstairs to her room, and I couldn’t understand what was wrong with her — she was really depressed and had been cutting herself," Logan Courtney said. "When she bent over, her shirt came up, and she had bruises all over her side."
The bruises came from abuse when the girls pulled her into the bathroom, pushed her out of a stall and pushed her down, making her hit her head, Logan Courtney said. She called a bullying hotline to report the abuse because the issues were escalating and no one was doing anything about them, she said.
Logan Courtney said the bullying got worse when the girls were questioned by the superintendent, so she contacted KOMU/NBC, which aired a story about the incident.
So why act now if these events took place a year ago?
Nikki Courtney said she thinks the new superintendent, who started July 1, will sit down with all levels of administration to root out the problem.
"I see this as an opportunity to effect change within our schools," Nikki Courtney said. "No child should go to school in terror of being bullied knowing that they cannot go to a teacher or a principal, and something won’t be done."
Nikki Courtney said she plans to request that this issue be added to the agenda for the next school board meeting.
Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.