Published: Jun 08, 2011 02:00 AM
Modified: Jun 06, 2011 10:20 PM
CHAPEL HILL - Parents at Phillips Middle School have begun a letter-writing campaign to school and district officials, demanding a response to what they've identified as a bullying problem at the school.
"The veneer of exceptionalism that has burnished the reputation of our district must be revealed for what it is at Phillips Middle School - an impediment to seeing a drowning school that needs a lifeline," says a letter from parent Jeff Hall, sent on behalf of other parents to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board, Superintendent Neil Pedersen, Principal Cicily McCrimmon and others.
Hall's letter lists several incidents shared by parents, including an eighth-grade student who has had her lunch taken every day by the same girl and a sixth-grade student who was so badly beaten that criminal charges were filed.
Hall said that he knows of four families, including his own, who have requested a school transfer for next year because of bullying. All of them were denied, he said.
Hall said his daughter, who will be entering high school next year, has not experienced bullying at the school, but that her friends have. After hearing her reports, he became concerned for his son, who will start at Phillips next year.
"He's small for his age and kind of emotionally vulnerable," Hall said. "It's really not the kind of environment we would like to have him in."
After hearing from his daughter, Hall started talking to other parents.
"A lot of people thought what they were going through was unique and kind of an aberration," he said.
Pat Richardson sent a letter to school and district officials saying her daughter had been bullied three times this school year at Phillips. She said the incidents were reported to administration, and her daughter was given the option to participate in mediation.
Richardson said her daughter asked to have her parents involved in mediation for the most recent incident, but that school officials told them that they could not participate because of safety issues.
"Well, my thoughts are we are already dealing with the lack of safety, so how could it hurt to have parents and the kids sit down and discuss what happened and how to prevent it from happening again at the school in a constructive manner," Richardson said in her e-mail.
When asked for comment, McCrimmon, the principal, forwarded an email sent to parents May 20 in response to the bullying complaints.
"Though challenging in its scope, it has forced our administration and teachers to reflect on the importance of clear and transparent communication and the establishment of a learning environment that is indicative of respect for learning and respect for one another," the letter says.
The letter invites further feedback from parents and says, "I am committed to our school being a safe place where all learners are respected and empowered to reach their individual potential each day."
Superintendent Neil Pedersen said he has met with McCrimmon, the school improvement team, and others to address the concerns.
"This is an issue that's fairly common in middle schools, but it was also an issue that the school had identified," he said, noting that a parent survey earlier in the year had indicated some concerns.
Programs are already in place to address bullying, including awareness education and the positive behavior and intervention systemwhich is used in all schools, Pedersen said. Aministrators will work to ensure that these programs are being used effectively and to identify other measures.
"Things like bullying are related to school climate and how discipline is handled in the school," he said.
He said officials will also ask parents for feedback and will review how incidents are reported.
"The majority of students are neither bullies nor targets of bullies," Pedersen said. "But for victims of bullying, it is a very serious problem that creates a sense of urgency for the family."