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Mount Si bully victims take a stand, call for change

Mount Si High School administrators meet with a dozen concerned students in a private bullying forum Monday, June 7, in the school library. Teens called for more action to change the high school culture. - Allison Espiritu / Snoqualmie Valley Record
Mount Si High School administrators meet with a dozen concerned students in a private bullying forum Monday, June 7, in the school library. Teens called for more action to change the high school culture.
— image credit: Allison Espiritu / Snoqualmie Valley Record

School has never been a safe haven for Addison Brothers.

Since middle school, the Mount Si High School sophomore has been picked on by fellow students. Socially inept, and always with more girl friends than boys, Brothers was taunted and called "gay," with the bullying getting worse in high school years.

"I tuned it out, ignored it," he said. "The ones that got to me, I just told myself that it's high school stuff, c'est la vie."

But after learning this month about the assault on a 14-year-old Mount Si freshman that happened in the school locker room in November, which came after weeks of confrontations and allegations of bullying, Brothers decided that enough was enough.

He and a dozen other Mount Si students frustrated by bullying experiences at school are now taking a stand, demanding that the high school culture change.

Facebook site

Brothers teamed up with Mount Si students Christina Finley, Shayne Allen and Savannah Hunt, who found each other after creating a Facebook group called, Students Against MSHS Beating Cover-Up. The site has attracted more than 500 followers and is still growing.

Posts on the site included requests for bullying victims to come forward, criticism and defense of the school and circulation of a petition on anti-bullying reform at school.

In a post on the site, Brothers stated that the name of the site was hastily conceived, but the group is stuck with it for now.

"We are trying to solve problems at our school," he said.

Student forum

Brothers, Finley, Allen and Hunt voiced to the Mount Si administration that harrassment was an ongoing problem in their school. They wanted to find a solution to stop it.

The four worked with other students developed an action plan, which they then presented in a private student forum with Principal Randy Taylor, Assistant Principal Beth Castle, Counselors and Diversity and Respect Team (DART) members Thomas Tilton and Amy Anderson and teacher Dirk Hansen.

Inviting the students to discuss the issues and solutions of bullying, Taylor told them that their voices are important.

"If there is going to be an attitude change, it's going to come from the student voice and participation through your efforts," Taylor said.

At the forum, students each shared their own experiences with bullying — physically, emotionally and through the Internet.

"Throughout my years, through all the schools, I've been harassed and bullied," said senior Blake Johnson. "I really want to make a change, so incoming freshmen as well as students still here next year are able to come here and feel safe."

Senior Grant Oney related how he was taunted in middle school for being small. Eventually, he grew and wasn't bullied at Mount Si. But has witnessed other people being bothered.

"I'm not exactly the smartest kid, so I've always been in remedial classes, which also attract kids that bully," he said. "I still see it happen, and I've heard the aftermath of bullying. I've never been in the position to stop any (of it), but I have to sit, hearing kids bullying people."

Oney wants to stop hearing about harassment, and about bullies praising themselves for their hurtful behavior.

Staff action

Questioning the training that high school teachers and administrators get on bullying prevention, freshman Taylor Pearlstein said she has little faith in the staff after witnessing certain procedures that the administration has taken to follow through with punishment.

"I think it's really important to take proper steps to renovate that. and make it better and more progressive for our school," she said.

However, Tilton, chair of the Diversity and Respect Team (DART), told the students that the newly organized group has had the teaching staff focus on issues of civility, professionalism and respect.

"Those are the three cornerstones for our program," he said.

Asked how they see teachers and administrators responding when bullying happens, several students related how some staff won't tolerate it. But other instructors seem to ignore, question or laugh the bullying off.

As examples of harrassment surfaced that included sexual, racial, and religious slurs, Castle said she wasn't surprised or shocked by anything that she had heard, but realized the overall sense of frustration.

"It's very frustrating that our staff is being less than professional, and they're allowing it and taking part in it," Castle said.

Petition

Collecting 399 signatures from Mount Si students in support of their action plan, Finley presented six ideas that they believed the school should focus on to lay the groundwork for change.

Ideas included:

• holding annual assemblies or in-classroom workshops, defining bullying and its consequences, with speakers who are trained to train people on preventing bullying

• Annual staff training days on how to spot bullying and deal with it

• Starting a district-wide anti-bullying campaigns including assemblies and training, starting with elementary schools

• Include information on gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and questioning students and minority groups that are common of bullying in all health classes, and how bullying affects students.

• Creating an easier way of reporting bullying (e.g. an online, e-mail "bully box" of sorts)

• Have a list of words that are considered inappropriate.

Along with these ideas, Hunt wants to create a student group trained to handle bullying. She envisions a uniform-anti bullying campaign throughout the district, with efforts to inform parents on what bullying is and a pledge system that students, staff and parents will sign to actively prevent bullying. She'd also like to see counseling for students who bully.

Taylor said it is important for staff to understand what goes unreporter.

"That's what I wanted to hear, what you experience on a day-to-day basis what your friends experience," he said. "This is going to let the proverbial genie out of the bottle. It'll enable us to hoepfully take action."

With these ideas, the school will be able to talk about school-wide education about acceptable behavior

"In order for us to understand the scope of the issues, we have to hear the issues, the bad and the ugly, to really make a stand on this issue," Taylor said. "We have to be willing to step forward,take a stand and get some momentum going throughout our school, so we can send out a powerful message for those who have a problem."

Board meeting

One parent and one student raised issues with bullying at a Thursday, June 10, Snoqualmie Valley School District Board of Directors meeting.

"I'm here to address the bullying issue that is going on in the district and is very severe," said district parent Kim Baker. "I'd like to know what is being done to protect all students from bullying.

Baker contrasted existing prevention plans with media reports on the November beating.

"Preventions do not seem to be working," she said.

Savannah Hunt, a senior at Mount Si High School, called on the board to make drastic change at Mount Si High School before the fall semester begins.

"I'm wondering what you are going to do to ensure that that what happened in November never happens again," Hunt said.

"There are already things going on at school on those issues," board president Carolyn Loudenback replied. "I think the student panel helped. We need to know what's going on. This has helped foster some good communication. We're on the road."

Loudenback said the board will be making a statement on bullying this week.

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