School bullying: Are schools doing enough to stop the abuse?
St. Lucie City school district faces federal probe
10:30 PM, Feb 13, 2013
4:47 PM, Apr 22, 2014
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - Amber Geissler describes a disturbing image that still haunts her.
"He drew one picture of kids in a roller coaster. He said, that's the suicide of death. ”
Geissler is describing a drawing created by her son, Cody, when he was just 10 years old.
"He said that's the roller coaster people go on and they commit suicide in there," said Geissler.
The picture only magnified the anguish this mother had been feeling for several years.
"He asked me "Mom, what would happen if somebody tried to commit suicide and they changed their mind at the last minute?”
Contact 5: "Did you really think he could kill himself?"
Amber: "Yes, I believe he would have done something,” she said wiping away a tear.
For three years, Cody attended Renaissance Charter School of St. Lucie, a K-8 charter school and for three years, his mom says, he was a victim there.
"They would corner him in the bathroom, they've shoved him up against the wall, they throw things at him, they trip him. ”
Contact 5: “So, bullying?"
Amber: "Absolutely, definitely bullying."
Cody has ADHD and Asberger's, a form of autism . Amber believes his condition made him an easy target for the abuse from other kids and for school leaders, she says, to do nothing about it.
"They saw it as his fault, it was his fault for being so annoying, for being an annoying kid. If he wasn't annoying than the kids wouldn't pick on him."
Amber says, she repeatedly complained to school teachers, counselors and administrators. Today she even has a suitcase full of documentation supporting her claims. But, she says, her concerns went nowhere at the school.
"I was completely shut down," she said. This, despite her own position as a teacher at the school.
"I thought they were going to deal with it. I thought they were going to fix it," said Amber.
A school spokesperson wouldn't comment on Amber's claims, stating they, "cannot discuss student's specific situation or issues. ” But school leaders maintain they, “follow the St. Lucie school district's code of conduct regarding discipline and bullying issues."
Schools are required by law to investigate bullying complaints. Schools are also required to report all incidents of bullying. But according to state data, Renaissance Charter of St. Lucie did not report a single case of bullying during the 2009/2010 and 2010/2011 school years, two of the years Cody’s mom says her son was being tormented by school bullies there.
"I'm not sure any school can accurately say that there hasn't been any bullying occurring on their premises,” explained Dr. Sameer Hinduja, a bully expert at FAU.
“We work with schools all the time, it's happening whether they see it or recognize it or not," he said.
Hinduja says bullying is so rampant that 2 out of 5 students are victims and middle schoolers, like Cody, are most vulnerable to it.
"They're trying to figure out who they are and they're wanting to be validated and affirmed by everybody else and their confidence seems to come more predominately from peers,” he explained.
A hospital report linked Cody's depression and suicidal thoughts to "problems" with "bullying at school."
The St. Lucie County school district faces a federal investigation after Amber filed a civil rights complaint accusing Renaissance Charter of St. Lucie of, “failing to properly investigate and respond to incidents of harassment and bullying on the basis of her son’s disability.
"All of those things they tell us as parents to look out for if your child is being bullied, my child was showing it," said Amber.
Through Cody’s actions, his words and the drawings that time will never erase.
"He's on a boat and he gets his arm cut off and it shows him, his body sinking into the ocean and then his body floating up as an angel," Amber describes from another one of Cody’s drawings.
"To have an 11 year old say something like that it's like, it rips your heart out, " said Amber.
Click here to read a report from the Florida Department of Education.