It makes national headlines all the time, tragic endings as a result of bullying. Texoma is no exception to this type of behavior. In fact, a number of Wichita Falls moms recently reached out to us asking for help to try and raise awareness to this problem. Not only were they willing to come forward, but their daughters, who are at the receiving end of the harassment and threats were also willing to go on camera. They say they're ready to see a 'no tolerance' policy actually put in place.
We spoke with four McNiel Junior High girls who are not all friends. They are four girls who each say they were harassed separately, in school, and it wasn't easy for them to open up to us. Being bullied has changed their lives, but in speaking out publicly, they hope it will bring change, whether it's within the system, the hearts of those who are doing the bullying or in the lives of other students who may be going through the same thing.
"The way they treated me, I felt like I was a piece of dust on the ground. I felt like nothing, like I was being stomped on. I wasn't human to them anymore," Stacy Sovereign said.
Being called names and constantly put down is a regular occurrence for the eighth grader.
"I get this stuff every single day and it's eventually making me believe it more and more," she said.
Stacy used to love going to school at McNiel. Now, she just tries to blend into the crowd, hoping she won't draw attention to herself.
"I used to get up at 5 a.m. and get ready for school and feel beautiful and then walk into school feeling ugly," Stacy said.
Teenage girls can be caddy, but for Stacy and three other seventh grade girls at McNiel, it's going way beyond nasty rumors or snickering in the hallways.
"Threatening to pull me down the hallway by my hair and take me across the street and beat me. They were doing all these gross things and cruel things for doing nothing," Stacy said.
The girls said it crossed the line and became bullying when it turned physical.
Affects of the abuse they were going through at school quickly carried over into their homes, classrooms and social lives.
"I would get random texts throughout the day to come get her early. She would say, 'I don't want to be here,' and it's not because she doesn't want to be at school. It's that she doesn't want to deal with the kids. Her grades have suffered. It's gotten bad," Amber Hall said.
Amber's daughter, Jordan, is in 7th grade at McNiel and said she is also bullied at school.
"She started coming home and crying herself to sleep. She was sick to her stomach because she didn't want to go to school. It got to the point she was so afraid to walk home, my husband had to start taking off work to pick her up," Christy Sovereign, Stacy's mom, said.
Stacy will be moving on to Rider High School next year. Because of what she's had to go through in junior high, her outlook on school has drastically changed.
"If I had the choice to be home-schooled or public school, I would be home-schooled," Stacy said.
That's exactly what Katie Nault did. Things got so bad for the 7th grader, even with the 2011-2012 school year drawing to a close, she left McNiel just a few weeks ago and went back to
"It's kind of nerve wracking because you don't want to run into those girls and you don't want to be alone at that time. I was always looking for someone to walk with," Katie said.
"Those girls can't go to school every day and concentrate and try to be good students when they're constantly looking around watching their back making sure she's not there. They shouldn't have to go to school scared," Nicki, Katie's mom, said.
Jordan Robertson has put in a request to transfer schools next year. She'd rather leave her friends than continue to go to school in fear.
"It's fourth period. I have it with five girls and yesterday they were throwing things at me and I didn't look at them once," Jordan said.
Jordan's mom said she takes different ways to class just to try and void the girls. All the girls tried ignoring the bullies, but they said that just made things worse. So, they turned to school officials for help.
"Teachers try not to hear it. some don't pay attention to what's going on," Jordan said.
"I can go talk to my counselor, but I don't trust her about things that go on at school," Stacy said.
"She doesn't act like she cares or that she's going to do anything about it," Nina Rivers said.
Nina is a 7th grader at McNiel who has also been dealing with bullies this year.
"They say no tolerance, but they are tolerating it a lot," Katie said.
The girls and their mothers are now frustrated because they say the school isn't doing enough to keep them safe.
We sat down with the McNiel principal and questioned her point blank about what the school has done to address the bully issue that's penetrating her classrooms. Most of the confrontations the moms we talked with had with the administration were with Assistant Principal James McBride. We tried to get an interview with him, but the WFISD public information office set us up with Principal Carol English instead.
" Bullying is when a child feels someone is picking on them and sometimes it has to do with how the child feels about something and when that happens and we're notified about it, we immediately consider it bullying if they feel that it is," Principal English said.
Through a FOIA request, we learned, since the beginning of this school year through April 24th, Wichita Falls Police gave 37 tickets at Wichita Falls ISD schools for disorderly conduct or fighting in public. Four of those were at McNiel.
We asked English if she feels they have a problem with bullying at McNiel.
"I think bullying is everywhere. Seriously, I think it's in schools, malls, church, parties. I definitely know it's a problem on Facebook so everyone has a problem with bullying," she responded.
When we asked WFISD officials about their policy on how to report bullying, they directed us to the student handbook. We found the "Bullying Prohibited" section states students need to make a written or verbal report about the incident to a teacher, counselor, principal or other district employee. It goes on to state, if proved, the principal will take action to prevent the bullying from continuing and take appropriate disciplinary or corrective action.
"We need to know that it's not stopped. If a parent comes to me, I'm pretty clear with them that we're going to take care of it and we're going to assume that we have fixed it. I tell parents if it has not stopped, if something more is going on, you must let us know. Then, we go back on it, and we go back on it as many times as we have to," English said.
The moms we talked with say they did tell school officials, multiple times. They filled out reports, called and even went to the campus.
"I went to the school every day for a week and a half talking to the principal or assistant principal. At first, they were acting like they would do something and they said they were, but they never really did," Nicki said.
"Helpless. For me, as a mother, because in my mind I've done everything I can do to prevent this and keep it from going on and I haven't been successful, I feel like, but I don't know what else to do," Amber said.
Because of privacy laws, we were not allowed to ask the principal specifically about the four girls who came forward or any action the school did or didn't take on their behalf. But, English claims bullying reports are not wide-spread.
"Checked with Mr. McBride and my counselor and it's less than 10 percent of kids in this building. That's all we know about. If we don't know, we can't stop it. If it continues, I have to know it's continuing. My job is to make sure I address everything that comes in, whether it's me or somebody on my staff. So, every time that comes in, it's going to be addressed. I asked if there is anything that we would've missed or not done and he said, 'not that has come in to us,'" English said.
We did learn that WFISD administration officials encourage parents who feel their concerns are not being resolved at the school level, to file a complaint or grievance with the district's Student Assignment and Parent Relations Coordinator. This, too, is in the handbook, but this information was no where near the bullying section, making it difficult for parents who are desperate for change.
While English told us sometimes it takes a while to sort things out, that is not the answer these parents are looking for.
"Act now before something bad happens. Don't wait until somebody slits their wrist or some child hurts another child and they're not meaning to," Amber said.
"Or even if they are meaning to," Christy Sovereign said.
" Somebody will get hurt," Christi Rivers said.
"What are they waiting for? Are they waiting for one of our little girls to get beat up? They say 'no tolerance,' but I haven't seen anything close to 'no tolerance,'" Nicki said.
Despite everything these four girls have gone through, most of them just want it to stop. By reaching out to us, they hoped to bring to light a problem that, for them, has gone too long unsolved.
"Pay attention to it because some people commit suicide because of it," Stacy said.
"I think they just think it happens every day and it will blow over in high school but it doesn't it just gets worse," Katie said.
"I think they think it's just something that you go through and you're just going to have to deal with it, when you really don't have to," Nina said.
"They don't want to deal with it, so they pretend they don't know it's going on," Jordan said.
"It makes me proud our girls are not just standing up for themselves or each other, but for other kids who may not want to come forward. Maybe they will and say, 'this is happening to me, please help me,'" Christi said.
For children these days, the abuse no longer ends when they go home. Each of the girls we interviewed has also been a target of cyber bullying, emphasizing the importance for parents to be involved and monitor their childrens' Internet activity.