YUCCA VALLEY — Teasing, fighting, beating and harassment on social media — parents of students at La Contenta Middle School say bullying is getting out of hand on the school campus; on Tuesday they asked the school board to do something to stop the bullying problem.
“La Contenta Middle School is having a high amount of fights,” said one parent, Theresa Murphy. “The administration has done nothing to address the problem with the violence.”
Murphy and about a dozen other parents attended the Morongo Unified School District board meeting Tuesday night to address their concerns with the board. Students and parents unhappy with fighting also demonstrated at the campus Tuesday morning.
The demonstration by parents took place on a sidewalk outside school while some students walked out of their first-period classes to protest violence on campus.
“Some students of these participants also attended the demonstration and missed a whole day of school to prove a point,” she said.
The sheriff’s station assigned a sergeant, two corporals and four deputies to the school for the protest, while the CHP sent two officers, sheriff’s Sgt. D. Hanke said.
School district administrators got word the day before that some students were planning a walk-out. To intervene, Principal Kelly Daly directed first-period teachers to allow students to share concerns and solutions in class.
Students who walked out of class were to be directed to a specific location on campus, where they were supposed to have 30 minutes to stage a peaceful walk-out.
Instead, a 12 year-old student pulled the fire alarm, which triggered a fire evacuation for all students, even those not participating in the walk out, Hanke said.
Deputies cited the student for triggering a false fire alarm and also cited his parent.
Kojo McCallum, the Morongo Teachers Association President and a teacher at Twentynine Palms Elementary School, attended the walk-out and said many of the teachers in the district echo the parents frustrations and fell like the bullying problem is district-wide problem.
“Across the district students are fearful, parents are frustrated,” he said. “Teacher moral is low.”
McCallum said that a lot of frustration comes from the interpretation of California law.
Senate Bill 419 prohibits the suspension of students in first through third grade for disrupting school activities or willfully defying the authority of school personnel. This law will be expanded to include students in fourth through eight grade on July 1. The law, however, does not ban the suspension or expulsion of students for assault or other violent acts.
“We have to stop telling the students parents, administration, teachers that kids can’t get suspended,” McCallum said. “Students can be suspended for violence there’s frequent fights students can be suspended for that.”
Many parents in the audience agreed that students who fight should receive harsher punishments; they shared their own stories of bullying at La Contenta. Ralph George said that his grandson, an eighth-grade-student at La Contenta, has been bullied incessantly all school year. He said he’s being picked on by kids larger than him in his physical education class and that bullying has gotten so bad he’s had to go to the emergency room.
“We have taken him to the emergency room twice this year due to injuries he sustained during these incidents,” he said. “The district has a responsibility to keep my grandson and all of these other kids safe.”
Another parent, Ronnie Marriott, said her daughter received death threats from other students at La Contenta Middle School and said it got so bad she decided, in November, to pull her daughter out of school.
Marriott said that when she found out about the death threats she and her daughter reached out to the school counselor, the board and Superintendent Tom Baumgarten and little was done. Marriott said that she and her child felt let down by the district.
“Any time (a student) goes to someone as say I’m being bullied and it’s being ignored they’re being told I give up on you,” she said. “They told me it was safe and it’s not safe. Something has got to change.”
Since bullying was not on the official agenda at the board meeting Tuesday board members were not allowed to directly address the parents comments or concerns but, at the end of the meeting, many of them used their board member comments time to discuss the parents concerns.
“I’m really concerned after listening to this,” said board member John Cole. “When I hear about death threats and ER visits I think it’s obvious that we have a problem.”
Cole and the other board members directed district staff to look into some of the suggestions made at the meeting, including more security on campus and more counseling. There will also be an anti-bullying forum held for all Morongo Basin West schools at La Contenta Jr. High School from 5 to 7 March 4.