Parents of children in Charlotte County public schools are claiming that bullying and threats are getting out of hand.
“We’re fighting back for our children. We’re fighting back for the safety of our schools and our children. No parent should have to fear their child going to school,” Carolina Russell, a mother of a Charlotte County student, said.
Charlotte County parents started a petition which now has more than 500 signatures requesting clear backpacks and metal detectors. They plan to take it to the superintendent.
Currently, more than 15,000 students are in the school system.
Michael Riley with the Charlotte County School District said the district has guidelines in place to make students feel safe and secure. “We put it in our code of student conduct that bullying was not accepted and the consequences for that,” Riley said.
“We also put in a number of years ago, a bully button on our website and some of the schools have boxes where you can go in and report either being bullied and you can report someone else being bullied. It can be anonymous who the bully is,” he said.
The district also has counselors, school resource officers, attendance officers, alarms, locks, fencing, cameras, and identification systems. It’s all supported by Safe School funding.
“We used that funding. That’s been used to put the additional resource officers and guidance counselors and social workers in our schools. We used that for our A1 systems so a person has to be identified by their driver's license before they can even enter one of our schools,” Riley said.
The district has received nine severe threats in 2018 and has a record of 90 bullying incidents. With 15,500 students, 20 schools and 4 centers, that's three to four incidents per school since early August.
One of those incidents included Carolina’s son and his friend. He was bullied on the bus and nothing was done about it.
“You call the school and you talk to the principal and you do this and you do that. Nothing. And the proof is my son is still getting bullied. My son fears going to school. My son sometimes doesn’t want to go to school because he’s afraid of what’s going to happen,” Russell said.
Carolina and some of the other parents believe the bullies are getting away with their behavior because of the Promise Program. You may have heard of the program in Broward County — it dates back to the Obama presidency and lowers punishment for crimes committed by students.
After talking to the district and the sheriff’s department, we found that Charlotte County public schools do not participate in that program.
“Some of the threats or the bullying is, oh you know, 'you wear glasses' or 'you have big ears.' Some of it is not severe. But it’s dealt with,” Riley said. “Now that’s a lot different with an assault or something like that if a kid is physically attacked or something like that. We don’t consider that bullying that deals with another policy in the school board. That’s assault.”
So is there a solution? “We’re requesting a town meeting with the school officials, with the committee representatives, the state and local representatives, the sheriffs to sit here and discuss concerns. We have a lot of concerns,” Russell said.
Riley said parents can start by going to the teacher and working their way up to the school board if they don’t feel satisfied with the solutions. Parents are also invited to school board meetings to voice their issues. Times and dates are posted on the district's website.
So what’s next? We’ll keep watching this story for you.