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Melissa Canales was folding laundry one Sunday when she looked out of a window in her home and saw an 11-year-old boy holding her son on the ground and hitting him in the face.
The boy was not unfamiliar to Canales; he had been bullying her son all year, she said.
On Feb. 4, her son and Danielle Slores were getting off the bus when the same boy hit one of them repeatedly under the chin. Canales’ son tried to make the boy stop, and Slores’ son tried to block the boy with his backpack. This resulted in a fight, and Slores’ son was punched hard enough in the stomach to make him throw up, his mom said.
Both parents picked their children up at the bus stop the following day. That’s how they met. Both of them wanted to talk to the bus driver about why the fight, which started as the children were leaving the bus, happened. The driver told the mothers they needed to speak with administrators at Rymfire Elementary School.
“I have gone in and made reports and screamed and cried and done everything I can many times this year,” Canales said. “Nothing changes. They bring the boys into the office, ask what’s going on and say, ‘Knock it off and go back to class.’”
The school told Canales that incidents after students get off the bus are not the school’s responsibility. So instead, Canales and Slores decided to call the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office. They wanted to press charges for simple battery because neither had had experience working with schools in the past, they said. A deputy prepared a charging affidavit for the State Attorney’s Office to review.
Canales said she received a call early this week saying the office was moving forward with the charges. Because those involved in the incident are juveniles, the State Attorney’s Office was unable to confirm this.
To Canales, pressing charges helps. If working with the state doesn’t pan out, she’s considering hiring a private attorney, she said.
But to Canales, the problem is bigger than her circumstances. Bullying is a big issue that doesn’t get as much attention as it should, she said.
Tracy Rhoves, who has children at Wadsworth Elementary School and Buddy Taylor Middle School, agrees. She has picked her first-grade daughter up from school with a gash behind her ear that warranted a trip the emergency room. Another time, Rhoves said her daughter had a large bruise on her face, which her daughter said came from being kicked on the playground.
“When your kids get to the point where they’re afraid to go to school, something isn’t right,” Rhoves said.
These instances came with no explanation from the school, Rhoves said, but she has issued complaints herself. When she did that, she learned about the mediation sessions between bullies and bullied at Wadsworth. As a certified behavior analyst, Rhoves said she finds the school’s tactics insufficient.
Rhoves said that at Wadsworth, her daughter was placed in a room with a student she has having problems with and told to work things out or she couldn’t leave. Rhove said in her experience with mediation, this is not an effective approach, and that students should instead be spoken to separately until they are ready to reconcile with each other.
Administration at Rymfire and Wadsworth did not return calls for comment, nor did the director of student services for the Flagler County School District.
Colleen Conklin, a member of the Flagler County School Board, said she receives few complaints of bullying — but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an issue.
In response to criticisms about school administration not following up with complaints of bullying, Conklin encouraged all parents file to their complaints with the anonymous reporting system on the School Board’s website. All complaints received that way are investigated by district officials, she said.
The district has numerous bullying prevention programs in place and has a no-tolerance policy.
“The bottom line is, if you’re one mom, and it’s your kid ... it’s a major issue for you,” Conklin said. “Whether it’s prevalent or something that’s happening on a small scale, it’s still something that needs to be investigated.”