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A call to action on bullying

Parents at the Medford School District's open forum Tuesday evening agreed on a couple of things they want changed in how the district handles bullying.

The audience, made up of teachers, parents and at least one student, applauded both administrators' existing work and ideas from parents that were shared in the multipurpose room at Hedrick Middle School - but also consistently called for improving methods for keeping kids safe.

"There's still children who are slipping through the cracks, and there's still tragedies happening, and there's still victims that are coming out of this," said Hope Kewley, who transferred her child to a Medford Charter School in the wake of bullying.

Jack Skinner, a parent to a Hedrick student, proposed creating a flowchart so students and parents know the chain of command to consult when bullying incidents arise.

"The problem is we don't have a flowchart showing, we started here with this problem, here's the successful answer to that," Skinner said. "What are all the steps in between for the parent and the child to see simultaneously that there's a progression? There's just not that anywhere."

The school district began its event with short presentations from the employees and consultants on the panel. Each described his or her role in bullying prevention and intervention, in and out of the classroom.

Judge Kelly Ravassipour told parents about the anti-bullying curriculum she presents in seventh-grade classes across the county, which touches on issues from drugs to cyberbullying.

Jim Barringer, a Medford Police officer who is one of Medford's school resource officers, described what legal authority he has and does not have in the event of a student-initiated assault.

"I can certainly charge them, I can cite them, but I still have to call (the juvenile detention hall) and ask for permission to take them to JDH," he said.

Raphi Miller with local nonprofit Resolve, described how restorative justice techniques are being increasingly implemented in schools to learn rehabilitative techniques and avoid feeding a school-to-prison pipeline.

Together, the panel members painted a picture of established systems intended to prevent and end bullying before it disrupts students' learning environment.

But the parents who spoke in the question-and-answer portion described a different experience - one in which those systems and processes had failed to curb bullying behavior against their children, before they eventually removed them from Medford schools for their safety.

Multiple parents, after describing the physical and verbal attacks their children faced from their peers, said that one of the earliest options they were offered was to simply transfer their children to another school.

"We were constantly being told, we can move you to another school," said the father of a daughter he and his wife said was bullied at Lone Pine Elementary School.

Michelle Cummings, chief academic officer for the school district and the evening's moderator, expressed sympathy and apologized to families who said they were brushed off or turned away.

Two district employees wrote down feedback and suggestions on large sheets of paper positioned at the front of the room.

Parents also asked for better communication, after describing examples when they didn't learn about suspected bullying incidents involving their children until days later. Some said they never received follow-up information after the first report.

A mom described an episode when a staff member from South Medford High School called her about a bullying incident involving her son and another student using social media.

"It wasn't brought to my attention until a couple days after they found out, which is upsetting for me," she said. "I never heard back anything about it ever again, except for when I had to ask my kid what happened."

Cummings said that district leadership would take the parent feedback to find out how to be more proactive in engaging parents.

"When it's about a disciplinary issue or when it's about a concern for the safety of your child, then you would expect to receive notification," she said. "Direct communication with parents in order for you to be able to support your children is critically important."

Parents repeatedly called for more action against students who are bullying, saying that it's unfair for students who are bullied to have to leave their schools.

Marie Kewley, sister to Hope Kewley, also attended Tuesday evening. She pulled both her son and daughter out of Wilson Elementary School after her son was repeatedly targeted, she said.

She also responded by organizing a march for anti-bullying awareness scheduled for this Friday afternoon at Fichtner Mainwaring Park.

"If anything, I think (the march is) more important at this point," she said.

Marie hopes the demonstration will display the amount of families affected by bullying who also want the school district to change its procedures to protect more bullied students more effectively.

"They know the problem's there," she said. "Our whole point is taking it public - really, really public."

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.

Michelle Cummings, chief academic officer for the Medford School District, opens up a forum on bullying held Tuesday evening at Hedrick Middle School. Andy Atkinson/Mail Tribune.