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Parents speaking out against school bullying

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by Janjeera Hail

Guam - Your child's safety should be the last thing you should have to worry about when he or she is at school.  But with bullying becoming more prevalent in island campuses, parents whose kids are being victimized are demanding more action from the agency charged with their care. 

Cindy Hanson's son attends Jose Rios Middle School in Piti. She was shocked to get a phone call today that he had been beaten up by a bully.  "I really have to lay this at DOE's doorstep," she told KUAM News.  "You can't have that few adults watching children and not expect that there won't be any problems."  

"There are not enough adults out there keeping track of the kids, and I think this is just gonna keep happening.  It's not just Jose Rios.  We've heard things at Benavente Middle, Untalan, Southern High - something is going on and I just feel it's a lack of adult supervision and it's reaching a critical level."

While Hanson says she's pleased with the school's actions since her son's incident, parents of Untalan Middle School children who have been victims of bullying aren't so happy with what they call "a serious lack of communication".  One such parent, Patsy Taitingfong, said, "This Tuesday there was a big fight.  The two boys were beating up on my son and his friends had to come in and defend him because they can't trust in the authority that they have there to protect them."

Taitingfong says she was never even notified that her son had been the victim of bullying since the start of the school year, although she says the disciplinary principal at UMS had mediated both boys and had them agree to stay away from each other.  "According to my son, the boy was never called in they were never mediated, they never agreed to do anything.  So because he didn't do what he needed to do or what he said was done, all of it could have been prevented," she explained.

Fellow Untalan Middle school parent Tracy Aguon says she, too, wasn't immediately notified that her son was beaten up by a group of boys at the school.  "He got assaulted in school twice in one week; I was notified after maybe three days later," she said.  "I didn't even know why my son was asking, 'Mom, my head hurts.' It was a bump. I asked him what his excuse was. He said, 'Mom, I just bumped my head.' That was due to the fight that happened in the restroom. The kid took his head and started trying to crack his head open on the urinal."

Despite a law against bullying, these parents say the Department of Education clearly isn't doing enough - whether it be communicating with parents or ensuring there are enough staff to watch the kids interacting in between classes.

Said Hanson, "There's supposed to be a no-bullying policy at DOE, and I just don't understand what it's going to take for DOE to do something about this. Are we going to have to have another child get killed?  Because I can promise you, I'm not going to take that as graciously as the last child's parents," she said sternly. "There will be some severe consequences, and I think any parent would feel the same way.  So hopefully they'll get the message and do something before something really, really serious happens."

Taitingfong added, "So my son has been feeling threatened. He's even afraid to go to school. He has to run to and from school, I can't have that because of all of this his grades have dropped."

DOE's Board Policy on Prevention and Intervention Against Bullying clearly outlines the responsibilities of school officials, which include implementing mediation, documenting the incident immediately, and informing the parents of both the victim and the perpetrator.  Untalan Principal Eleuterio Mesa admits that this time something went wrong, telling KUAM News, "I immediately looked into the matter. I called in all the parties, all the students as well as the assistant principal and I said let me do it all over again. Because something went wrong here."

But DOE Deputy Superintendent Arlene Unpingco contends the school system is doing the best it can with the limited resources they have; unfortunately there's just no funding to hire any additional help.  "The funds that we are going to be receiving would really be to cover our personnel that we currently have within our budget," she said.  "It's really not an additional funding source to be able to hire additional school aides."

This past June DOE issued a request for proposal seeking companies to implement an anti-bullying prevention program.  There's been no word on whatever happened to that RFP.

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