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Guest Opinion: Ashland schools failed to protect my son from bullying

Regarding the “bronze star” rating awarded to the Ashland School District by the Oregon Safe Schools & Communities Coalition, you followed up by reporting on Friday, March 6, that the district expressed “curiosity” about not receiving a higher rating. Since this rating is based on policies regarding harassment, intimidation, bullying, etc., the coalition may well have reached this conclusion based on interviews with students at AHS or Ashland Middle School.

A young man I know very well had excruciating experiences in Ashland schools. He was different; he may be described as “odd.” As his mother, I encouraged him to celebrate his differences, to value his many remarkable qualities, and to do his best to ignore those who taunted him because they truly were beneath his notice. He worked regularly with private counselors, we made certain he was physically safe, comforted him, often met with teachers and administrators, and taught him self-advocacy.

In elementary school, he would retaliate against those who were making fun of him, and would end up being blamed for the incident and punished for it. By the time he was in high school, he’d learned to isolate himself socially for protection and emotional self-preservation.

From middle school on, many sleepless nights were spent sobbing, questioning, and begging to not have to return to what he described as “a living hell.” At a parent-teacher conference at the middle school, his homeroom teacher casually mentioned that one day she had found him “in the fetal position under a classroom desk” during the lunch hour. Why hadn’t she called us right away? Why was he under that desk? No one there had thought to find out. He finally admitted to me that it was because of taunts and cruel statements from the other kids, some of whom had been his good friends in elementary school.

By the time he was in high school, he was able to ignore most of the taunts aimed toward him and his handful of friends who were so different from the mainstream. When it became unbearable, he would seek help from the adults on campus. The Ashland schools failed him again. He was patted on the back, told he was being overly sensitive or imagining things, and sent back out to fend for himself. We were never contacted by AHS. We learned about these instances only from him, and not until after he graduated.

Two teachers and one administrator did their best to keep their eyes on him. We will be forever grateful to Lloyd at the alternative school, Doug Shipley, and Don Valentini. I will always feel anger toward those many who didn’t lift a finger, even when he went to them for help. I am surprised they earned even a bronze star.

Priscilla Saul attended Ashland schools for 12 years. Her third-grade students this year have taken it upon themselves to design a campaign to stamp out bullying at their Eagle Point elementary school.