AARON DAVIS WAS QUOTED IN THE SUN SENTINEL REGARDING SCHOOL VIOLENCE
Another student at New Renaissance Middle was beat to the ground this year. Several kids took turns kicking her until school staff stopped them, according to her family’s attorney.
In each case, parents say the schools did not do enough to keep their children safe.
Several Broward school board members say they plan to examine ways to better quell violence and bullying at school.
“If it’s happening to one child then we’re not doing enough,” board member Nora Rupert said after a mother pleaded in October with the school board to protect her daughter from foes.
Every school has an employee responsible for providing educational materials about bullying prevention and an employee who investigates all bullying complaints. Staff, students and parents at every school get anti-bullying training every year. Available trainings include tackling dating violence prevention, conflict mediation and diversity sensitivity.
And a group called The Prevention Team collects data and gives ongoing guidance to students and advisers in an attempt to prevent violence.
After requests from the Sun Sentinel, Broward school district staff were unable to say three weeks later how many reports of bullying Broward receives or how many cases turn violent.
But a 2015 survey of middle school students showed that about one-third of about 1,500 students surveyed had been bullied at Broward County Public Schools, according to estimates from a Youth Risk Behavior Survey led by the Centers for Disease Control.
Almost half of the students had gotten into fights and just about 4 percent were injured, according to the report.
The survey of high schools estimated that about 16 percent were bullied and about 8 percent had physically fought at school within the year. About the same percentage of high school students avoided going to school at least once within 30 months of taking the survey because they felt unsafe.
Lowell Levine, founder of the Stop Bullying Now Foundation, which works with parents, schools and students across the country, said he’s gotten at least three dozen calls this year from Broward parents searching for help.
They come to him after trying to get school officials to answer their concerns, he said.
One board member said she’ll start parent and student forums on violence at school, and the board chair said she will ask staff to determine if schools have enough guidance counselors to adequately handle bullying.
The district pays $6.8 million to staff schools with about 150 police officers and sheriff’s deputies.
But Tajzhana Hammond said no one was there when she emerged from a circle of fists and stomping feet, found her shoe, called her mom and walked herself to the office last week when her classmates jumped her.
No adults can be seen near Hammond in a video of the fight, shot by another student on a cellphone.
Her mother, Helen George, stormed to the office when she received the call.
“I busted through the door like it was nothing. … I was Incredible Hulk. I wanted to fight. Ten girls jumped my daughter. No security guards there,” George said.
Hammond said students started threatening her shortly after she and her mom moved from Miramar and she switched schools. One slammed her with a backpack in the lunch room after several verbal threats. She told her mom, who went to the school office the next day, she said.
“I said there better not be a next time,” George said.
But just weeks later, the girls attacked Hammond.
The district will not answer specific questions related to the incident. Instead, a district spokeswoman emailed a statement saying that the altercation was determined to be the result of an ongoing neighborhood dispute and that no physical injuries were reported.
“School staff and law enforcement responded quickly and followed all proper protocols. … The school notified parents of all of the students involved in this incident. Based on the school’s investigation and review of the incident, some of the students involved will receive the appropriate disciplinary actions,” the statement read.
Plantation Police said several people will be arrested, but the department has not completed any reports.
Nancy Zimmer, president of Plantation High’s Parent Teacher Student Organization, said the principal did everything she could. She rang the lunch bell and told the students over the intercom that whoever was involved would be dealt with and that altercations like that would never happen again, Zimmer said.
“Not one parent I’ve heard thinks that the administration is at fault in any way,” Zimmer said.
Board member Rosalind Osgood, whose district includes Plantation High, said a student told her three fights broke out there the day of Hammond’s attack. Osgood wasn’t sure whether Hammond’s attack was one of those. The district, she said, has a student fighting problem.
Osgood said she will lead a push to quell it. She will start by increasing parent and student participation in shaping policy changes by hosting several forums to hear how they think the schools can best address bullying and violence, she said.
“It’s going to take a major culture change for all of us,” Osgood said.
But schools must strike a balance. Parents may say the school isn’t protecting their children because their kid’s attacker wasn’t sent to jail or removed from school, she said.
Leaders also must not issue punishments that provide little chance for the student to reform. Staff need to work to address anger issues with the student who is bullying, Osgood said.
And calls to increase security come with their own problems.
“I don’t want schools to be a place where we’ve gobs and gobs of officers walking around,” Osgood said. “I’m trying to keep kids out of jail, so I don’t want to create a jail environment.”
Broward currently runs a school, the Pine Ridge Education Center, that aims to reform aggressive or illegal behaviors instead of sending them to jail.
Nine months after several kids beat Jayla Cofer to the ground at New Renaissance Middle, her double vision lingers.
Jayla had feared her attacker for weeks, according to a lawsuit her mother, Santrail Cofer, filed against the school district. Her attorney said the student began threatening Jayla and her friends over relationship rumors. The dispute erupted into a physical battle in a classroom between that student and the friend a week before the beating, said Cofer’s attorney, Aaron Davis of Miami-based Davis Goldman law firm.
The student was suspended, according to the suit. But two boys went to the Cofer home the following night and banged on her door. Cofer went to school the next day and reported the incident to Miramar police, saying she was afraid for her daughter, according to the police report.
School staff sent Jayla home and told her they would change her schedule so she could avoid her bully, Davis said.
The next Monday, she returned to school, met with a guidance counselor, attended a class and walked down a flight of stairs to lunch when she saw several students waiting for a fight, Davis said.
And there stood the girl who had attacked her friend the week before.
Jayla landed in the emergency room with a deep wound on her face, her legs bruised, skin torn and vision trouble, Davis said.
The school resource officer and a school security specialist broke up the fight, but there were no arrests. The school handled the event through its Pine Ridge Education Center program, said Tania Rues, police spokeswoman.
The district will not answer specific questions, citing pending litigation. Nor would the district comment on whether staff typically alters a victim’s schedule to avoid bullies.
Schools commonly suggest that the victim change his or her schedule or habits to avoid the student harassing them, said Levine, of the Stop Bullying Now Foundation
“They may have lunch at the same time. They may be on the same bus, they may be in the same locker room. They may be walking to school in the same neighborhood. So what is that really accomplishing?” he said. “It’s just surface work so they can have an excuse to say, ‘Well, we tried.'”
Experts at the Melissa Institute, a violence prevention and treatment education and research organization, said schools can address bullying by paying equal attention to character development and emotional intelligence as they do to testing and evaluation.
Students who bully tend to have good leadership skills, since they’re so effective at influencing other kids’ self-esteem. To truly resolve bullying, schools can counsel these students to use their power to help others, said Heather Winters, director of the Melissa Institute.
Levine said schools can start by forcing students who bully to complete community service rather than suspend them.
Broward School Board Chair Abby Freedman said she will direct staff to determine whether each school has enough guidance counselors to effectively tackle bullying.
“You can write all the policies in the world, but you have to start communicating to find out what’s really wrong,” Freedman said.
Kim Johnson fears her daughter could land in another situation like these.
She recently pleaded with the school board to investigate bullying of Kaila after she said she filed several complaints with Nova High School and has received no relief.
At the beginning of this year, for example, some girls saw Kaila leaving the school parking lot, ran to their car and sped up to pass her. They hit her car in the process, Johnson said.
A traffic report documents the incident.
And three weeks ago, Kaila’s boyfriend overheard the girls saying they were going to do something to her before winter break, she said.
So Kaila goes to school early to avoid running into them. And she leaves school late.
“You always have your guard up,” Kaila said. “There’s always that feeling of being on edge.”
The district is investigating Kaila’s case.
“It makes you not want go to go to school to be honest,” Kaila said. “Just go to get the motions done instead of actually enjoying school.”
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