Parents get a lesson in bullying
September 4, 2015
By Susan Luzzaro
Loma Verde Elementary, in the Chula Vista Elementary school district, held a second meeting August 28, hoping to placate parents whose children have experienced bullying or who have had other concerns about school safety. However, many parents left the meeting more upset than when they arrived.
Concerns about Loma Verde first came to public attention on August 19 when NBC7 reported that a young girl had experienced bullying at the school. Monica, the mother of the child told NBC7 that her daughter had informed Loma Verde authorities last year that she had experienced bullying and felt like she didn’t want to live anymore. School officials, according to the news report, did not contact the mother about the daughter’s suicidal feelings. This was the impetus for parent meetings held at Loma Verde on August 21 and 28.
More than sixty parents showed up at the August 28 meeting. They sat patiently while yellow post-its and pencils were passed out to them and Loma Verde principal, Jane Clark, told them to write their concerns on the post-its and stick them on the butcher paper on the wall.
Clark also gave a power point presentation about the various campus committees that would take up the question of bullying and showed the parents a slide regarding the Bullying Oversight Committee which met August 26. She also informed the public that Mara Madrigal-Weiss, from the County Office of Education, would be doing some training on campus.
School officials scheduled the meeting to last 30 minutes. After 25 minutes of presentations, principal Clark announced she was going to take parents on a tour of the school. Before embarking on the tour, and before parents had been allowed to utter a peep, she said, “Thank you so much and have a great weekend.”
Parents looked distressed and murmured among themselves, then one mother said, “Is this really what this meeting about? All these parents have many concerns. Don’t we have the right to ask you anything right now?
Then another parent stood and said, “Ms. Clark, my concern is Friday blacktop. The kids sit on the ground, you could boil an egg on the ground, that’s not right. The bullying, I think, comes from you, you give the example, you shout at the kids and the teachers.”
Clark responded, “Thank you so much we will address that so please place that on the post-its.”
Then another mother said to Clark, “Have you ever been in a meeting where you’re not allowed to ask anything? This is really disrespectful to all of us. It’s like we’re nothing right now.”
At this point Emma Sanchez, a Chula Vista Elementary Executive Director intervened, “What we’re going to do is we are going to take some questions, if we can just do it in an orderly way…”
Parents began to ask for the dates of the committee meetings which had not been on the power point, or the dates when the experts were coming to the campus. The dates were not yet available. Parents also wanted to know if the district had completed an investigation into bullying at Loma Verde.
The meeting became increasingly chaotic. The parents spoke in Spanish. The interpreter only translated for those wearing head phones, and the administrators, including the School Resource Officer, only spoke to the audience in English. Finally, students arrived for nutrition break and the parents were ushered into the hallway. There was no tour of the school, but the parents continued voicing their concerns in the hallway.
One parent said, this was the first time she had seen a police officer at a meeting and wondered why he was there.
One father felt that the bullying problem was overblown. He said we have children’s allegations on the one hand, but we need to know more. He said, “The most important thing is for parents to be at the school now.”
Another parent stated that she was concerned that the children were not allowed to eat lunch in the cafeteria, which is now called the multi-purpose room. She is concerned about the lunch arbor’s cleanliness and that there is not enough oversight.
She said she volunteers often but can’t be available every day.
Parents also surrounded Anthony Millican, the district’s Communications Director, trying to make their concerns heard and trying to get answers to their questions. Millican handed out copies of the district’s uniform complaint forms.
Several parents said they didn’t have confidence in an investigation and said they thought an investigation should be undertaken at the state level—in Sacramento.
Millican offered comments via email on September 1. They have been edited for space:
“There were several strategies presented at the meeting of August 28 to address concerns raised at the meeting of August 21. Because of student privacy rights, we cannot discuss specific cases of bullying, such as discipline that may or may not have resulted from an individual complaint.
“We will work with our Loma Verde parent community to make it an even more welcoming school culture, to enhance the environment for learning and achievement. We definitely hear and acknowledge the concerns that have been raised. We also hear and acknowledge the frustration of parent leaders at the school, who helped organize excellent workshops last year—including presentations about bullying/school climate—yet the workshops were sparsely attended. Would better attendance then have made a difference now?
“In regard to lunch procedures and other school policies, the school’s parent leaders strongly urged other parents to attend School Site Council, and other meetings, where policy decisions are made, so that they are better informed. Our District staff will work with Loma Verde’s site leadership and other stakeholders to increase parent attendance and overall engagement in school activities…”
Disclosure: The author of this story has a family member who is on the bargaining team for ChulaVista Educators and who taught at Loma Verde several years ago.