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School officials say bullying problem is being addressed

by Merrie Leininger

Complaints of relentless bullying and intimidation of Douglas High School students have gone unanswered, says one parent, but school officials say the school is addressing the problem.

Lisa Schenzel is the mother of a girl who until recently had been a 10th grader at Douglas High School.

Schenzel said she had to enroll her daughter in another school to protect her from the violence she was enduring from two other DHS students.

“At first I thought my daughter’s problem was an isolated case, but more and more people are taking their kids out of school because of it,” she said. “This district is supposed to have the best education, but how are they supposed to get a good education if they can’t even go to school? My daughter was a nervous wreck.”

Schenzel said the students responsible for violent behavior are not given adequate punishment.

“If these girls are beating up other girls, they have no right to an education,” she said.

Although Schenzel said her daughter is much happier in another school, Schenzel is unhappy because she believes her daughter will not receive as good an education, and she has to drive her daughter 30 miles to and from school every day.

She also thinks the problem has not been solved by taking her child out of the situation.

“Once the kids leave, it doesn’t solve the problem because they just pick on other kids,” she said.

Schenzel said although she has also filed criminal charges against the two girls who beat up her daughter, she doesn’t have much faith they will receive any more discipline through the court system.

– Suspended. DHS Vice Principal Susan Baldwin, who handled the problems Schenzel’s daughter dealt with, said the two girls were dealt with properly – they were suspended from school for six and nine days and will be closely monitored for any discipline problems with they return to school.

“Any incident they are involved in, they will be recommended for expulsion. There will be zero tolerance for any disruptive behavior,” Baldwin said.

They will also be attending mandatory counseling sessions with DHS guidance counselors.

A law that went into effect this year states that after the second occurrence of provoking or initiating violence, the offending student can be considered for expulsion by the school board.

The school can only dole out punishment for up to 10 days of suspension. Baldwin said she has not asked the school board to consider any student for expulsion this year, but she is only one of three administrators who deal with discipline problems.

Baldwin said she has only dealt with six or eight fights this year.

“It seems to be a method of operation for many kids these days. We are working on reframing their methods. They know we are available to mediate with the kids anytime they want to. Counselors sit in and talk through it with them and also talk to the kids about how to keep themselves safe,” Baldwin said.

Sometimes the families of both students involved are referred to the Aspen Program for mediation or for impulse control counseling, but they cannot force a student to participate in outside programs.

Another problem, Baldwin said, is that students just don’t come to staff or their parents when they are being bullied.

“To mediate, have to know about the problem before a fight breaks out,” she said. “But they have this code that if they go get help, then they’re narking.”

Baldwin said the school’s primary concern is the safety of the students and administrators are looking at different ways of keeping them safe.

One of the main goals is getting the peer court set up.

– Peer resource. Erin Bell, student body president and student coordinator of the peer court, said the court will be up and running by the end of the month.

Student officers are preparing a survey of the students’ perceptions of bullying and intimidation in the school. Once the survey is complete, the court will start.

The juvenile probation department, sheriff’s office or school will refer students to the court who have admitted to battery or intimidation.

The seven student jurors have been selected who will determine the discipline for those students.

Bell said she thinks the court will effect positive change.

“It will be another outlet for people who are struggling with people bullying them to turn to. Anything that adds to the peer resources will help,” Bell said. “There is a tension in our school, you can tell in the hallways, but I don’t know how much of that escalates into fights, but there is some harassment that goes on.”

Principal Bev Jeans said she thinks the peer court will be effective because students will have to answer to their peers instead of adults.

“Students will be providing the consequences and making decisions for other students,” she said.

– Juvenile court. The current juvenile court process, according to Deputy District Attorney Derrick Lopez, is to take every battery case seriously, whether it is referred to the juvenile system by the school or the victim.

“It’s our practice to take them all seriously, but the less serious injuries (in which there is no physical signs of battery) are not always handled through the court,” Lopez said.

In those cases, he said, students are given community service hours, informal probation and counseling.

For repeat offenders or students who have shown a continued “impulse control” problem, detention time or even a stint at China Spring is possible, he said.

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