Amy Walker said her son’s bullying began the day before Christmas break his first year of elementary school.
Now in sixth grade, Walker’s son has attended Grace Jordan Elementary since he was in kindergarten. The elementary made headlines Monday when it was reported that a fellow student, fifth grader Sara Himmel, was hospitalized early Sunday morning because she attempted suicide.
For the better part of two years, Amy Ruth Himmel said her daughter has been the subject of severe bullying, which most recently included notes on Sara’s desk making fun of her weight and telling her to kill herself.
After Himmel’s story was widely shared, several parents of Grace Jordan students contacted the Idaho Statesman to voice their concerns over bullying at the school, noting Sara’s experience is not an isolated one.
Bullying has always been an issue for Walker’s son and generally consisted of “little incidents,” she said, even from his first days at school. Many of the incidents did not lead to a phone call home, she said.
“It did start in kindergarten, the day Christmas break was getting out. My son was punched in the nose by third grader. ... I wasn’t even called,” she said. “I had to take him to the emergency room for this.”
This school year has been worse, however. During a span of four to six weeks, Walker said her son was bullied by a fellow sixth grader. The bullying included racial slurs.
“Nothing has been solved at this point,” Walker said. “We went in and had a meeting (with administration). Basically, excuses after excuses.”
For parents around the country, the issue of bullying is not new. It has, however, gotten worse.
According to a 2015 study from the Pew Research Center, 60 percent of American parents worry their children (under 18) will be bullied at some point in their lives. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that 25 percent of public middle schools reported that student bullying happened at least once a week at their school.
In a 2011 article in Everyday Health, Allison Takeda wrote that bullying is “worse than ever,” going so far as to use the phrase “epidemic.” The reasons for that are, for the most part, technology related.
“Cyber bullying has gone the way of the 24-hour news cycle, in that it never stops and is hard to escape,” Takeda wrote. “Whereas teasing and name-calling was once limited to school hours on weekdays, now it follows kids home and, in some cases, gets even worse at night and on weekends, when more children are on the Internet and accessing social media sites.”
Becky Araiza, another parent of a sixth grader at Grace Jordan, said her son was called racial slurs and physically assaulted by a classmate. In a September 2017 email conversation provided to the Idaho Statesman, Araiza was in contact with school administrators about her son’s bullying and did not feel it was dealt with properly.
Grace Jordan principal Joan Bigelow wrote in an email that she agreed the school could have handled the situation better.
“You are right,” the principal wrote. “We have done a bad job of communicating with you.”
Rather than discipline the student who bullied her son, Araiza said in the email her son was told by a behavioral counselor to bond with the student over lunch, “and force contact and friendship.” The entire sixth-grade class was later divided into teams that would cycle through stations during recess to “build strong relationships with each other.”
“The forced groups only gave the bully direct access to repeatedly bully,” Araiza said.
“Bullying is the worst I have ever seen at Grace Jordan,” she continued. “I have spent a lot of time and many tears trying to protect my son. And I have a kindergartner that is telling me there is a boy in her class that has tried to choke her on the playground ... And still nothing is being done.”
The Idaho Statesman reached out to Grace Jordan Elementary School and the Boise School District for comment on the recent incidents. District spokesman Dan Hollar was unable to comment on the specific allegations mentioned but said the district has dealt with the allegations seriously.
“We disagree with the claims that the District has not responded appropriately ...” Hollar said. “Mrs. Bigelow has adhered to our District policies, procedures and practices, and we trust her skill and expertise in dealing with peer conflicts and bullying. In this situation, she has consistently responded to the child and family with great compassion. Though she cannot comment on the facts surrounding this situation, Mrs. Bigelow has continued to prioritize and protect the safety and privacy of all students at Grace Jordan.”
Hollar also provided the school’s plan to deal with bullying:
- Building a positive school climate
- Running Groups for self esteem — Jaguar Joggers and Girls with Grace
- PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention Support)
- Leadership Camp
- Everyday Leadership Program
- Safe School Ambassadors
- Quarterly Character Assemblies
- Teaching Empathy
- Love and Logic Strategies for students, parents, and teachers
- Bi-monthly classroom counselor lessons such as conflict management, upstanders, internet safety, recognizing unsafe situations in the school, conferencing with adults
- Individual and group conferences with students
- Group Counseling Lessons
- Recess Groups with the Behavior Interventionist
- Individual teaching with Principal, BI, Counselor
- Loss of Privilege
- Principal/Behavior Interventionist Conference
- Peer mediation
- Parent involvement
- SRO as needed
After Himmel’s incident, bullying is as much of a fear as it was before for some parents. Amy Nichols’ daughter is friends with Sara Himmel. She said her daughter went to school scared Monday.
“My daughter went to school (Monday) worried that since Sara wasn’t there the bullies would be targeting her ...” Nichols said. “This issue happens to be one at Grace Jordan that has not been resolved nor have the parties responsible been reprimanded in any way.”