Mid-way through the April 8 Houston School Board meeting parents David Adams and Tonja Turner stood and asked to speak, but were told the board had a policy and procedure for public comment. It was pointed out no formal paperwork had been filled out prior to the meeting allowing for public comment.
Adams said he had contacted the Houston Middle School principal about the alleged bullying of his daughter several weeks ago and met with Assistant Superintendent Chad Spence last week to voice his concern. Adams said Spence told him he could carry his concerns to the school board.
“Sir, I would like to speak to the board,” Adams said at the Monday night meeting. “Our daughter is being bullied and I now understand there is a procedure, and I would have done it if I had known it.”
School Board President Bart Munlin said he would not allow Adams on the agenda at that point in the meeting. State law requires the board’s agenda to be set prior to each meeting. The board then formally adopts the agenda at the beginning of each meeting. An entry listed as public comment is included on each agenda. Board policy requires a public comment form to be submitted to address the board before each meeting.
“I am asking you to contact the central office or me about your concern,” said Munlin. “If it merits it, we can call a special meeting or we will have to wait until next month’s meeting.”
Adams and Turner, and their daughters, left the meeting and said he would be contacting the state about his bullying concerns.
“We were initially told to stay out of this and the bullying would go away on its own,” said Turner. “Well, it hasn’t and we have decided to step in.”
Turner said the problem was bigger than just her and Adams’ children.
“I just want to see this fixed,” said Adams.
“The bullying has not stopped,” said Turner. “As any father would do I’ve gotten involved. It just needs to stop.”
Both Turner and Adams pointed to incidents around the country where bullying has led to school violence and teen suicide.
“We don’t want to see this happen to our children or any children in this district,” said Turner. “I understand teenager go through stages, but at what stage is it Ok to be mean to another student.”
Turner said she has emails confirming that bullying is going on and there was even a facebook site earlier in the year aimed her daughter.
The state addressed bullying last year and passed legislation defining it. The Houston School District has adopted an anti-bullying policy.
Though most offenses occur off school grounds and after school hours, schools are crucial in reaching solutions to teenage bullying. They provide counselors who give students a confidential ally to turn to, and serve as a neutral ground to bring all parties – parents included – together for discussion and resolution.
Bullying easily falls under the specifications of section 19-45-15 of the Mississippi Code. This law deems false statements online about character or conduct as unlawful. Penalties for electronic offenders include imprisonment and up to a $5,000 fine.
Often, online turmoil builds over the weekend and erupts into a physical confrontation when the participants are brought together at school. There is a law addressing this as well.
Section 97-45-17 of the Mississippi Code makes a distinction between online slander and potential violence. Making a threat over the Internet is punishable by up to five years in prison, a $10,000 fine or both. While the law is still widely untested, families of victims are well within their rights to hold offenders accountable. Schools may take it upon themselves to turn the matter over to the police when physical harm becomes a possibility.
The Houston School Board meets at 6:30 p.m. on the first Monday of each month. All meetings are open to the public.