A small band of parents concerned about how the Eagle Point School District handles cases of bullying plan to appeal to the School Board Wednesday for better communication between schools and parents and closer adherence to district policy.
The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the district offices, 11 N. Royal Ave., Eagle Point.
The parents contend the district has a reputation for bullying. But district officials say behavior referrals are down and credit a zero-tolerance approach with clear consequence for bad behavior, teacher training and school curriculum designed to encourage peer conflict resolution and a healthy atmosphere.
Eagle Point parents Curran Beardslee and Darci Shelton say their daughter was bullied from October until earlier this month, when they transferred their children to another school.
Emma, 11, homeschooled until last year because of health issues, is petite for her age and speaks in a whisper, which Beardslee said often garners teasing. The angry father said another girl at his daughter's school repeatedly stole his daughter's lunch and harassed her.
Beardslee said he became emotional with school staff, who then called police.
"In our case, it had been going on since October and nobody documented it. So I finally told my daughter to stay away from the little girl doing the bullying and that she had my permission to get up and walk out of the classroom and to go to the office to call her dad. The office wouldn't let her call me, which is when I'd finally had enough," Beardslee said.
"My issue with the whole thing is aides aren't talking to teachers, teachers aren't telling the principal and no one is letting the parents know when something happens."
Beardslee acknowledged the district has a reasonable policy but said his family's issue was not handled in the way the policy suggests. He said since going public with his concerns, he's talked to over a dozen families with similar stories.
Eagle Point resident Nicole Edwards transferred her son, now a second-grader at a regional charter school, from the district after his reports of being bullied were ignored by staff.
"My son was being shoved down a hill and pushed around every day at recess right in front of recess monitors," Edwards said. "I finally got so fed up, I wanted to talk to this boy's mom because it was obvious the school wasn't going to do anything about it.
"But they actually treated me like I was the problem for complaining about the bullying."
County resident Renae Berry, who pulled her four children from the district after her youngest were bullied at Table Rock Elementary, said her concerns fell on deaf ears when reported.
"The district really needs to change its policy as far as bullying is concerned," she said. "Maybe they do have a policy, but they're just not enforcing it. They sure like to say that they have a zero-tolerance policy.
"But the zero tolerance comes in where they have no tolerance for the parents complaining their kids are being bulled."
District parent Liz Ulloa said her son was harassed by another student and then made to "go play somewhere else" to avoid the student, who followed him to the new area.
"I get that kids are going to be kids, but I talked to his teacher three times about this issue and got nowhere. They say, 'It takes a village,' well I was trying to be the village," she said, noting that her son was eventually "punched in the face" after ordering the other student to stop calling him names.
"And the school didn't even call me to tell me what happened. I didn't know until my other son called and said, 'We're in the office and my brother just got punched in the face.'"
Tiffany Lambert, Eagle Point director of school improvement, was surprised by reports of bullying to local media and pointed to the district's efforts to reduce bullying behaviors.
For a first offense, district policy calls for a time-out from school functions and parental notification by telephone or letter. Repeat offenses involve everything from a parent conference and student's loss of privilege to in-school suspension and referral to law enforcement, with severe instances allowing for out-of-school suspension and revocation of driving privileges.
"As a district, we notify parents with even minor referrals," Lambert said. "We encourage all parents, if they feel there is an issue, to talk to their principal. If the issue is not resolved, call the district." She said reports of bullying are taken seriously by the district.
"This is an issue nationwide and we have seen, in our district, a decrease in our discipline referrals," she said. "We take efforts in every school and have a districtwide positive behavior support system in place."
District Superintendent Cynda Rickert did not respond to phone calls by the Mail Tribune.
District Attendance and Student Services Supervisor Phil Ortega said the district has worked diligently to teach students to interact in healthy ways. Ortega said discipline referrals districtwide dropped from 105 during the 2012-2013 school year to 51 in 2013-2014, upward to 67 in 2014-2015 and back down to 59 last year.
"On our (Department of Education) report card, where it focuses on discipline, we've always been evaluated in a positive way," Ortega said. "We have 4,000 kids in Eagle Point schools, and we have only had 35 issues of hazing, harassment and bullying reported this year.
"We have a monthly meeting where we discuss discipline issues and we look at trends and data from all the schools. We have one of the lowest bullying rates amongst Jackson County schools."
Ortega said buy-in from families and community members is key.
"Out of 365 days, kids are only in school 176 days a year. They're out of school for 189 days. The challenge is, how do we promote civility in the schools when we only have them for half the year?"
Jose-de-Jesus Melendez, principal for Table Rock Elementary, said whether bullying incidents were founded or otherwise, he could attest to the district's commitment to "each and every student."
"Kids come to school with anxiety over a long list of environmental issues, such as divorced parents or something going on in the home," Melendez said. "There are so many things that affect the lives of our children and how do we address that?
"By being fully trained in strategies to help the children not only have language and strategies to negotiate with each other so they can stay away from conflict," he said, noting he was saddened by cases of parent response preventing children from learning to navigate school yard issues in preparation for real life.
"Oftentimes, when little ones get into issues, the families immediately get fired up," said Melendez.
"And when that happens, they fail to give their children the chance to practice what we have been teaching them here. And that is to be problem-solvers."
Reach Medford freelance writer Buffy Pollock at firstname.lastname@example.org.