Viewers' Voice - updated story
School shields accused bully from police; KGUN9 viewers are outraged
Notes by: Forrest Carr, KGUN9 News Director
Two things are crystal clear. One -- too many parents are frustrated, scared and outraged over the way some educators handle incidents involving bullies. Two -- all too often they have good reason to feel that way.
On Thursday we posted a brief story on KGUN9.com letting viewers know that we were working on a follow-up to our ongoing bullying investigation and had uncovered some startling facts. We revealed that we had confirmed an incident at a local school where, after a hallway attacker inflicted a concussion and a brain injury on a visually impaired 9th grade girl, administrators shielded the accused bully from police. The story was preliminary and short on details, but it was enough to trigger a flood of posts on our Facebook page from disgusted and outraged viewers, many of whom are parents or former students. By Friday morning, the completed 9 On Your Side Investigation was our most viewed, most commented, most emailed, and most recommended story on KGUN9.com, and the story links on our Facebook page had attracted nearly 150 comments.
Viewers are not just mad, they're hopping mad. Many posters could not express themselves without the use of profanity - which most of them courteously masked with dollar signs, asterisks and so on. Not to put too fine a point on it: these folks are royally p*$sed off. Very clearly, this is an issue the public cares about.
As well it should. The bullying issue is as serious as it gets. Last week our investigation discovered that four -- count them, four! -- students in Tucson had committed suicide amid bullying this school year. This information had not been previously revealed, and so far hasn't been reported anywhere except on KGUN9 News. The threat of suicide was a factor in this most recent case as well.
Four kids dead in Tucson, according to police, and others threatened and at risk: how is this not a major health and safety crisis for our kids, and how did this problem sneak up on us?
It should be blindingly obvious: the public needs and deserves more information and more action. Yet for too many administrators, silence, secrecy and inaction remain the order of the day.
According to the TPD incident report in the Maybin case, assistant principal David Berry defended his refusal to call police with a claim that his decision was for the "betterment of the school." The officer wrote in his report taht Principal Rex Scott agreed with that statement.
What did they mean by that? If allowing one bully to roam the hallways makes a good school, then letting bunches of them do it must be even better. By that measure, Catalina Magnet school is doing fabulously well. This week the Maybins finally had to withdraw their child from school because of a death threat.
But whatever is motivating administrators in this case remains a mystery. The principal canceled an interview with KGUN9 on the subject. When 9 On Your Side continued pressing for answers, a district spokesperson sent us an email citing district policy and a federal law known as FERPA as a reason to avoid comment.
The suggestion that any law or policy forbids the district from explaining to the public how the decision to shield a bully from police is for the "betterment of the school" is bogus.
For one thing, FERPA does not regulate this type of speech. KGUN9 News has been through this before. For weeks last year Pima Community College kept its files on mass shooter Jared Lee Loughner from the public, citing FERPA as the reason. But a judge disagreed and ordered release of most of those records. Why? Because FERPA's restrictions are narrow. They forbid the release of written student records held in the student's central files without the consent of the student. At the high school level, consent of the parents is required. KGUN9 News is not looking to see the victim's report card, but even if we were, consent is not an issue in this case. The parents are screaming for information. In fact, the Maybins would have been physically present at the interview principal Scott canceled. Further, FERPA specifically allows the disclosure -- and therefore the discussion -- of police records, such as incident reports.
As for district policy, we are not aware of any internal TUSD rule or regulation that would prohibit a principal from publicly discussing the issue of how the school handles, or fails to handle, bullies, or how shielding them from police makes a better school. But if there is such a secrecy or non-disclosure policy, it needs to change.
Update: after this story was published, the principal reversed his decision not to talk. See update at the bottom of this posting.
Contrast the school administrators' level of public responsiveness to that of county attorney Barbara LaWall. Her office, too, has some explaining to do on this case. But it's doing it. When 9 On Your Side called on Thursday afternoon, the office could have hidden behind policies, regulations and written statements. It chose not to do so. A spokeswoman in authority returned our call. Criminal deputy county attorney Kellie Johnson gave us a detailed explanation, answering all of our questions in detail with courtesy and professionalism.
Responsiveness to parents is a key issue. It's a recurrent theme in the flood of comments, postings and emails we've received since 9 On Your Side began this investigation. Many of those parents feel that when their kids were bullied, educators showed more concern for the bully, and failed to protect the innocent victim.
We've reported two of those cases at this point, cases where parents felt they had no choice but to remove a child from school in order to end bullying. Score two for the bullies. And we are looking into other, similar complaints.
Clearly, Tucson police get it. The investigating officer in the Maybin case tried hard to do something about the attack on the girl. It's not the officer's fault that administrators refused to cooperate. Further, TPD has programs in place that reach out to schools in an effort to educate kids and teachers about bullying in the hallways and on the Internet.
Clearly, some educators get it. When 9 On Your Side decided to investigate the issue of bullying, we found no shortage of TUSD administrators and educators willing to go on camera to help the public understand this issue. Those educators and administrators are taking steps to combat this problem, and they did not hesitate to share those efforts with us, or to invite us in to document those efforts for our viewers.
But it's equally clear that some other educators absolutely do not get it. We are hearing it in phone call after phone call, comment after comment, and posting after posting from frustrated, angry and sometimes frightened parents and former students.
When people can't get help anywhere else, they often turn to 9 On Your Side. Our power to assist is limited and indirect at best. But we can listen. And we can help make sure your voice is heard. That is the promise we spell out in our Viewers' Bill of Rights, and it's inherent in our name. "On Your Side" is not just a slogan to us. We mean it. 9 On Your Side is not going away on this issue. Long time viewers who've heard us make that statement in the past on other topics know that when we say we are not about to let an issue drop, we are not kidding.
That's how we see it. Here's what many of you think.
Shawna Lynn Barroga (via Facebook, with capitalization as originally presented): "I am STILL so upset at all of the bullying going on and just down right P1$$3D OFF and something NEEDS TO BE DONE!!!! Everyone and I MEAN EVERYONE that KNEW WHO was involved and did NOT REPORT it because the school told them not to should lose their jobs as well as the TUSD SUPERINTENDENT! Sounds like they need to clean house and I hope that EVERYONE of the kids involved gets PROSECUTED TO THE FULLEST and their parents lose everything as well! The kids should NOT HAVE TO FEAR going to school to LEARN!!!! TUSD is just telling ALL OF THE KIDS THAT BULLYING IS OK AND IT "WILL" be TOLERATED! TOTALLY UNACCEPTABLE!"
Ron Williamson (via Facebook): "They are harboring a criminal and should be treated as such!!!"
Cinda Christiansen (via Facebook): "The school officials should have the choice of reporting the creep or loosing their job."
Jessica Payne (via Facebook): "Are you kidding me! I have three kids and what this is telling me is when my kids start high school and if they are a victim of bullying it doesn't matter??? This is the third time I've heard about an incident similar to this and the schools not notifying the authorities... This upsets me very much and I worry for my kids. The parents need to take full legal action. This is ludicrous!"
Theresa Morgan (via Facebook): "This is ridiculous! I am outraged! The bully is a criminal, the school is intentionally obstructing justice, and the school has set this up to happen again! The school needs to be prosecuted and held accountable, the bully needs to be held accountable and prosecuted for assault, battery and anything else they can charge, and the victim should be able to obtain reimbursement for medical and detrimental damage done. If you prosecute the school and the bully, then you reassure that this will not be allowed to happen in our schools without dire consequences. As for the friends of the bully, they should be charged as well. Get off your butts TUSD and take care of your students!"
Larry Murray (via Facebook): "I bet if a teacher had been assaulted they would have called someone!"
Darlene Ortiz (via Facebook): "I would like to see these school systems procedures change! My niece and son were bullied and my niece was even choked at school. They go to White Elementary and nothing was done!! The vice principle said they talked to the student and [the student] was given lunch detention! Really!! My brother and myself asked to press charges and the principal refused! Saying that it wasn't a punishable crime. Bull crap!! We send our kids to school to get an education!! They should be safe there but it seems nowadays that some schools just don't give a crap!! These students need to learn a big lesson and be arrested! No matter what the age is!"
Val J Allen (via Facebook): "I just watched your story on bullying in school. It happens everywhere anymore and the schools all say the same thing: they don't want to report the abuser. It causes a scene. We live in S.V. and the school my grandkids (who I'm raising) were bullied and nothing done, my grandson had his nose broken and the principal didn't call the police or the parents of the student who broke my grandson's nose. She told me that she felt it was an accident and a lot of witnesses said it was on purpose. I was the one who called the police.... The beginning of this year I thought I am going to home school which I did for a month then decided it wasn't fair to keep them from public school so I just changed schools and both are honor roll students. Parents please get involved. BULLYING MUST STOP IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS. Our children should be afraid to attend school."
Edward Dunham (via Facebook): "FIRE all the school officials involved."
"macsmommie" (Via KGUN9.com): Sadly, I am not surprised by this story. From personal experience I can attest to the fact that TUSD is all talk and no action when it comes to bullying! Wake up TUSD - you suck!"
"desertsky" (via KGUN9.com): "Had a situation at Bonillas in 01/02. Talking to the Principal did not help, calling 1010 [TUSD headquarters] did not help. Complaining to the Assist Super got the boy suspended for 5 days, and a temp (supposed to be permanent) aid. It took 1 1/2 yrs to get expelled."
"vejapall" (via email): "Subject: Five O'Clock Newscast. Guy, you and KGUN9 are at your best this evening. I hope you will take Catalina Magnet and shake it until it rattles. Dynamite newscast."
KGUN9 news will continue to look into this issue. We've assigned a team of five reporters to it. You can contact them at the addresses below.
Valerie Cavazos: firstname.lastname@example.org
Stephani Ruiz: email@example.com
Steve Nuñez: firstname.lastname@example.org
Claire Doan: email@example.com
Marcelino Benito: firstname.lastname@example.org
You can find our entire series of investigations and reports about bullying on our Hot Topics tab at the top of KGUN9.com, under the label "Bullying," or click this link.
Your comments are also welcome. Post them here on KGUN9.com, on our Facebook page, or email them to email@example.com.
Correction and updates:
After this story was published, the principal mentioned in it changed his mind about not talking, and agreed to an interview with KGUN9 reporter Marcelino Benito. That report can be found at this link.
Also: an earlier version of this story stated that the four suicides this year had happened in the TUSD school district. TUSD now says that information is not correct. On review, we found that the police statement on which KGUN9 News relied for our report said that their information was that the suicides had happened in Tucson. The statement did not specify that the suicides had happened in TUSD. KGUN9 News regrets the error.