ELLSWORTH − “You have a bullying problem in your schools.”
That was the message from two guardians to Ellsworth School Board members and Superintendent Dan Higgins at a meeting Tuesday evening.
Gwen Clark and Rachel Hicks, who both have sixth grade girls at Ellsworth Elementary-Middle School (EEMS), were nearly in tears as they told board members and school officials that their children had been bullied.
“We don’t believe that anything has been done,” said Clark, later adding “She’s not alone, there are other kids in the school.”
Hicks said she had removed her daughter from EEMS after she was reportedly “taunted,” and “called the n-word twice.”
Hicks said a suicide note written by her daughter had been found on the desk of another student but that Hicks had not been notified.
“I am disgusted with the handling of the situation,” Hicks said.
“I was not notified of any issues at school. They just kept saying to me that it was girl drama.”
Hicks continued, “I’m very frustrated. I felt like nothing was done, I wasn’t listened to.”
Clark, who said she had to put her granddaughter in outside counseling, said she was also frustrated because she felt as though the bullies had not been dealt with by administrators. She said she understood that policy prohibits staff from discussing any actions they’ve taken.
“We have no reason to think that anything is being done,” said Clark.
The emotional comments from the parents came after a difficult two weeks in the schools, with one Ellsworth High School student arrested on charges of solicitation to commit murder and the death of another student earlier in the week in what police have said is an apparent suicide.
Cathy Lewis, pre-kindergarten through fourth-grade principal at EEMS, addressed Clark and Hicks.
Lewis thanked the women and said that “We work as hard as we can to make sure every kid is successful and stays safe.”
Her own voice breaking, Lewis added: “It isn’t for lack of caring. It isn’t for lack of resources and trying to help kids day by day … we go home at night and we cry and we worry.”
“We’d like to express appreciation to Mrs. Clark and Mrs. Hicks for coming in,” said Superintendent Higgins. He said the school’s bullying policy is modeled after state law and that any and all reported incidents are investigated for substantiation.
“Whether it is or not determined to be a substantiated case of bullying,” said Higgins, “sometimes there are still behaviors that need to be addressed, and in either of those cases our administrators are tasked with following up and addressing the behaviors with both the offending student, the allegedly offending student and the victim.”
Higgins said administrators are also required to tell both sets of parents or guardians “what the outcome was,” but that policy “prohibits us from saying to the parent of a victim what was given for disciplinary consequences.
“We’re not allowed to do that and I appreciate your acknowledgement of that,” said Higgins, addressing Clark and Hicks. The superintendent said he planned to meet with both women.
Higgins acknowledged recent events, saying “When faced with unexpected and tragic events as we faced over the past week in our schools and in our community, our staff members demonstrated an even greater level of unity, strength and compassion as they provided support to and focused on the safety and well-being of not only our student body but also of their colleagues … the children for whom the staff are responsible are in the most capable and caring of hands from the Ellsworth School Department staff.”