Dozens of parents shouted down Waterford School District officials at a town hall meeting in March to discuss what they perceived of as rampant bullying in the district’s schools.
The heated three-hour meeting centered largely on students and parents relaying the horror stories of bullying to superintendent Keith Wunderlich and board members John Torres and Bob Piggott, with most alleging the district’s efforts to address serious behavior problems isn’t working, the Oakland Press reports.
Several folks in the crowd who spoke up shouted their frustrations directly at Wunderlich.
Fourteen-year-old Brooklyn Longacre told district officials the sexual harassment she’s faced at Mott High School convinced her to quit playing sports, and she now sees a counselor. Longacre said school officials haven’t taken her complaints seriously, and she’s not alone.
“I’ve seen her get bullied, and her,” Longacre said, pointing to classmates in the crowd.
“Peer mediation doesn’t work. I had to walk down the hallway with the same guy who was touching me every day … I’m really tired of it,” she said. “I’m tired of the excuses. I did go to my principal and the principal said I lied. This is real. This is happening.”
The meeting followed recent allegations of assault and sexual abuse shared widely on social media.
Kaila Partlo told the Press she posted to Facebook about her third-grade daughter’s experience with bullies and the post generated over 65,000 shares and over 100 calls from other Waterford parents with similar concerns.
Parents of a Cooley Elementary School third grader who committed suicide in January have also spoken out recently about the district’s bullying problem.
Ashley Wright, a community organizer who planned the March meeting, told the Press her now 18-year-old daughter suffered depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts during her two years in Waterford schools, but those problems seemed to evaporate when she started a new school in Illinois.
Makenzie Benning, a Pierce Middle School eighth-grader, also spoke at the meeting, relaying how she punched a student in self-defense after he repeatedly sexually assaulted her. Benning said she received a three-day suspension, while her harasser faced no punishment, the Detroit Free Press reports.
“I (was) sexually harassed last year and got in trouble for standing up for myself,” she said.
A district spokesperson told the Press Waterford schools uses several nationally recognized anti-bullying programs – including Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, The Leader in Me program and Mindfulness – but have assembled a task force of parents, school officials, social workers and anti-bullying experts to implement changes.
Parents like Kaila Partlo, however, seem skeptical the effort will make much of a difference.
Parents and students alike are now highly sensitive to the dangers of bullying. Even as national statistics show a national decrease in bullying behavior, it is imperative that all involved address the problem with the seriousness that it deserves. A problem exists at this school that is deeper than bullying. There is skepticism by parents that the administration and teachers care about addressing these moral dilemmas. Researchers at the University of Virginia found that in some cases public high school teachers are reluctant to get involved in controversial issues. They observed, “This failure to provide a fully developed and broadly coherent moral message was partly due to public school teachers’ reluctance to opine on controversial issues.” They often refrain from “providing serious direction on what was right and what was wrong.”
Teachers and principals interested in strengthening moral formation in their students can find support and strategies to do so at the UK’s Jubilee Centre.
 Hunter, James Davison and Ryan S. Olson. The Content of Their Character (Finstock & Tew Publishers, 2018), p. 67.