News 12 at 6 o'clock / Thursday, Feb. 23, 2011
GRANITEVILLE, S.C. -- On any given weekend, you'll find Kayla Powers acting like a typical 15-year-old. She's carefree and lighthearted. But during the week, behind the doors of Leavelle McCampbell Middle School, her mood changes.
"It makes me feel bad. Like really bad, because I'm kind of scared to go back to Leavelle," she told News 12.
The school in Graniteville serves 475 students. Kayla is one of them. She says this school year's been a difficult one.
"Since ... the beginning of the school year, I've been getting bullied by the same people, and it kind of ... scares me," she said.
Only weeks ago, Kayla says she was tripped and pushed down a staircase at the middle school. After a trip to Aiken Regional Medical Centers, she spent some time walking with crutches with her ankle wrapped up and her knee in a cast.
"It was a fractured ankle, and then her knee was swollen. It was bruising, and they put her on crutches for two weeks," said Jodie Riley, Kayla's mother.
Multiple students tell News 12 the bully is still in school.
"I see him all the time, and he tries to trip me up, but I walk past it," said Callie Jones, a student at Leavelle.
Despite her injury, Kayla says her injury represents a much bigger issue. We asked her how widespread she believe the bullying problem is at her middle school.
"It's really bad. It's like spreading really bad," she said.
Lloydette Young is principal of the school and couldn't discuss Kayla's case. She couldn't specify if a student was punished and, if so, how he or she was punished, but she said the problem was handled. Ultimately, she says there's not a bullying problem at her middle school.
Aiken County School District Superintendent Beth Everitt says she doesn't believe it's a widespread problem, either.
"I had one report from a parent: an email of concern," she told News 12.
But News 12 has heard from dozens of concerned parents, including Charles Bradshaw, whose daughter also goes to Leavelle.
"They keep saying there's no problems, but Judy comes home crying because somebody's threatening her," he said.
Bradshaw even filed a report with the Aiken County Sheriff's Office this past December after his daughter was injured by a bully.
"He grabbed Judy's bag. She had it on her arm, and when he pulled it, it pulled her down, and she twisted her ankle pretty bad," Bradshaw said.
He says the fall fractured her ankle, and he ultimately had to take her to the hospital, too.
Bradshaw wasn't satisfied with the principal's actions.
"I told her right to her face that if you can't handle the job, just give out. Let somebody else have it," he said.
Down the road, another family has similar feelings.
"When my daughter was hit in the face, the teacher said, 'Well I didn't see it happen. Go sit down,'" said a mother of two middle schoolers.
She didn't want her name known out of fear for her children.
"It all seems to boil down to certain children ... not being taken care of by the administration," she continued. "It's horrible. It's scary. It's really scary. And we feel like no matter what we do, it falls on deaf ears."
She says her middle schoolers come home with new stories of bullying and harassment daily, but she says her conversations with Young have gone nowhere.
"Even the bad children deserve an education. Yeah, I was told that," she said.
But back at Leavelle, Dr. Young was surprised that the frustration exists. News 12 asked her if she'd heard any of that frustration from parents.
"I have not until you shared that with me," she told us.
She says the county's bullying policy is effective and efficient. There are written guidelines for reporting bullying and following up. However, legally, she says she can't always give a parent the details.
"Due to confidentiality, we can not share specifically what consequence a student has received," said Dr. Young.
But students like Cameron Laborde aren't impressed with the way things work. He says most students there realize the problem. Personally, he hasn't been bullied, but he says he sees others bullied frequently.
"My friend had been cornered in the bathroom before, and we've had to step in and do something about it," he said. "There's girls I know that have autism, and they're getting picked on."
But Laborde says he doesn't see the bullies being expelled.
"There's just one guy I know that's been kicked out, and the rest of them are still there," he said.
News 12 recently submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for the number of expulsions and suspensions so far this school year. We're still waiting to get that data.
"As a student [back] then seeing things get handled and as a parent now seeing things get shuffled around, it's very disturbing," said James Smith.
Smith went to Leavelle when he was a kid, now he has two step-sons there.
"My oldest step-son, he was an A [and] B student, and now . . . he's had an F all year. He went from A's and B's to an F," said Smith.
Like other families, Smith and his family also turned to the Aiken County Sheriff's Office for help.
"My child was assaulted in the bathroom by four other students while he was urinating," said the mother of the two children, who didn't want her name known.
The incident report states the "subject pulled him from the urinal exposing his penis to everyone in the room." The child's mother says it was only after she filed with the Sheriff's Office that the school took action, but it was almost two weeks later, she says.
"All I can do is hug my boys and tell them that not everybody's a nice person," said the two boys' biological father.
And Michael Whitmer has been hugging the two boys a lot lately.
"I'd much rather be talking about what new Transformer's coming out or who's going to wrestle who at Wrestlemania than, 'Daddy, why am I being called gay all the time? Or, Daddy,why am I being called a fat butt all the time?'" he said.
Like other parents, Whitmer feels like nothing's being done.
"I don't know about you, but when I was in school, if you screwed up in school, you were done," he said.
Whitmer just hopes the situation at Leavelle is handled before it's too late.
"The situation going on at Leavelle right now it could end up like another school that you hear on the news: Twelve year old walks into a classroom with a loaded shotgun and kills ten people. Why did that happen? Because he was bullied," Whitmer told News 12. "There needs to be something done. They need to change something."
But while both Dr. Young and Dr. Everitt say that one bully is too many, they say the system is working, and it's working particularly well at Leavelle.
"As you told me, you believe that your bullying policy is kind of the model for Aiken County Public School District?" News 12's Chad Mills asked Dr. Young.
"Yes sir, it is," she answered.
"If we have a pattern of concerns at a school, we look into that, but every school is dealing with bullying right now. We will continue to look into it, but the things I've seen at Leavelle and other schools, I'm pleased with the actions that are being taken," added Superintendent Everitt.
Parents do tell News 12 that there are good teachers at the school. They say there's an excellent assistant principal as well.