Parents Allege Bullying at Kromrey Middle School

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By: 
Michelle Phillips
Kirsten Lobe (far right), the mother of a Kromrey Middle School student, told the board about alleged bullying her son has endured at the school.

MIDDLETON–It started last year with name calling and has escalated to physical violence this school year, according to two Kromrey Middle School moms who allege their kids have been the target of bullies.

Kirsten Lobe and Suzanne Sahran said their son and daughter had been the subject of verbal abuse last school year. In an incident that happened last week, Lobe’s son had rocks thrown at him during lunch. Sahran’s daughter was slapped by one girl, while another filmed the incident on Sept. 28. It was then posted to the social media site Snapchat with the title “I slapped that h**” and a smiley face. 

Both moms as well as seven others have contacted the Times-Tribuneclaiming their kids were the victim of similar incidents. The other moms did not want their names published because they feared their children would be further traumatized.

The problems began last year for Lobe’s son. In spite of one of the incidents in which she says kids were calling him names being caught on a school camera, the school ruled that it was inconclusive evidence because the was no sound. She said that although then principal Steven Soeteber seemed sympathetic, little action was taken. 

Regarding the recent incident in which kids threw rocks at her child, she said, “The harassment started first thing in the morning, and at lunch the boys started throwing rocks at him. They further harassed him in the bathroom later in the day.”

The incident, which Lobe said was confirmed by the school’s Dean of Students Brittany Plow and a case worker, left her child crying and suicidal. 

“He was hysterical when he got in the car (after the rock throwing incident). He was screaming, crying and sweating. He says, ‘I just want to die,’” Lobe said. “He says, ‘Why me-why are kids picking on me? I’m not mean to anyone.’

“There should be no opportunity for kids to throw rocks at another kid,” Lobe added.

She said she attempted on many occasions to discuss the bullying problems last school year, when most of the bullying happened in the locker room. She said she sent eight messages to officials at the middle school, including Soeteber which were never returned. Calls also went unreturned, she said, and claims it wasn’t until she told the school she contacted an attorney that the school took notice. She said she also talked with Student Resource Officer (SRO) Julie Carbon and Associate Principal Eric Engel and called the Middleton Police Department to see what could be done to stop the bullying.

In May, she told them her attorney said because her son is on the autism spectrum, the bullying could be seen as a hate crime. The school then put an adult in the locker room to keep an eye on the kids as they dressed and undressed for gym class. She said when an incident happened in class, they removed her son.

She said that she had high hopes that things would change when Dom Ricks took over as principal at the school this year, as did Sahran, but the problems have just seemed to escalate less than two months since the start of the new school year. 

Sahran said that her experience was similar. She said that her daughter started experiencing bullying at the end of last school year. She said that the school was aware of the problems she was having with bullying long before the video incident occurred.  

“At the end of the day on Sept. 23, a sixth grade girl confronted my daughter and started screaming obscenities,” Sahran stated of how the altercation began. The girl then slapped her daughter with the butt of her hand, leaving a bruise that lasted for a week, while her friend filmed it on her phone. 

Sahran said her daughter did not know about the video at the time it was filmed, and learned about it the next day at school when people started showing it to her. 

“She was humiliated. Everybody has seen this video,” said Sahran, who added that the video was also shared on Instagram, but has since been taken down. 

“It got so bad that the school found suicidal artwork. When we peeled back the layers, we found she had a lot of problems and we ended up taking her to the children’s psychiatric hospital for nine days.”

Ricks responded to written questions sent by the Times-Tribuneto the district, in regard to the suicidal thoughts and expressions by the kids he said, “Suicide screeners are in place for all students. When we become aware of suicidal ideation or tendency, counselors and psychologists respond to support the student and family with outside resources and to develop a safety plan for the building staff to follow in support of the student.”

Sahran talked with school officials, including Ricks, Engel, Carbon and school counselor Abby Hannam. She also contacted the director of the Youth Center Gabrielle Hinahara, since the video incident occurred in the hallway outside the space the center occupies at the school.

She said that she felt Hannam was engaged and sensitive to the situation. “Abby Hannam came to the psychiatric hospital to learn her needs at discharge,” she said.

She also went to the police and was told that they could not arrest the girl because she is only 11 years old. She said she was told that the Student Resource Officer (SRO) could issue a ticket, but Carbon told her they did not issue tickets to sixth graders. 

Sahran said she wrote a letter to Ricks outlining the incident and citing the school code of conduct. She said she does feel that he wants to be part of the solution.

Sahran said the girl who hit her daughter was given in-school suspension and sensitivity training, though the school would not confirm this because they cannot discuss specific students. She and Lobe both feel the discipline was inadequate.

Ricks said the behavior cannot be tolerated and cited ways she believes they can help address the problem. He listed several ways she feels physical attacks could be prevented, including “working with individual students, small groups of students, and at the classroom level to address issues of physical violence.”

Ricks went on to write the school disciplinary measures are “very robust.” He added, “By law, there is no transparency for students and families impacted as to what the extent of consequences are. We acknowledge that it could be frustrating to have a small piece of information and not the full picture of actions taken for any given child, but there are clear rules and laws in place that we must follow to maintain confidentiality in these matters.”

But the bullying by the girl did not stop there, according to Sahran. She said after the video incident her daughter had another confrontation with the girl at a volleyball game while getting an item from the vending machine.

One of the mothers who would not be named for this story said her daughter, now college aged, was bullied in similar ways while attending Kromrey. She, and other moms said they fear Kromrey has created a “culture of bullying.”

Ricks addressed this notion of a culture of bullying alleged by parents. He wrote the following: “Children could be nicer to each other. We believe that children bully each other when they perceive a deficit in themselves and don’t know how to address that. Like we did at Glacier Creek Middle School the past two years, when I was dean of students, multi-layered steps have been taken to prevent and address bullying behaviors.  Since the start of the year there have been many actions taken to educate various student groups, such as our ongoing social-emotional lessons in each grade level and trauma screeners to target students experiencing various levels of emotional distress.  We also are planning on delivering a lesson on the power of words, such as slurs and put-downs, to our 7th grade class mid-November. Moving forward, as a staff we will take collective action to prevent bullying and to create a more positive school culture and we will continue to be responsive to the needs of our community.”

Parents said they are not just complaining, but want to be part of the solution to stop the bullying at Kromrey not only for their own kids, but for coming generations of kids. They proposed forums on bullying, parent volunteers who can work as hall, lunch and recess monitors, email notifications to report incidents, and a peer-to-peer intervention system.

“These are topics of conversation with our Kromrey Parent-Teacher Organization. We are following up on parent ideas and input with staff in the building who are trained to implement the ideas with all kids in a school setting,” Ricks said.

As for reporting an incident to the school and the school’s response, Ricks stated, “We have shared with parents the processes to report bullying. For example, this year in our weekly E-News we sent out the instructions on how to report bullying via HelpLine and our PTO shared it out in its most recent monthly communication. Reports submitted via the helpline are high priority and are acted on immediately. As a school, it is our ideal to always return communication within 24 hours but sometimes situations arise that prevent this from being a reality. Our minimum expectation is to connect with families that contact us within 48 hours.”

Middleton Cross Plains Area School District (MCPASD) Communication Director Perry Hibner said, “We have heard from many families that this needs to be addressed and we need to do more. We need all students to respect one another and treat each other with kindness.”

Both Lobe and Sharan have posted their concerns on the neighborhood app, Nextdoor, and sent several pages of comments to the Times-Tribune. In the Nextdoor posts, dozens of parents bring up incidents in which their children were allegedly bullied at Kromrey. Many have similar stories about how the bullying escalated, and some said they removed their kids to homeschool them. 

In addition, multiple posters claiming to be teachers said they see the bullying occur, but have little recourse in stopping it or changing the situation. “Our hands are tied,” one person wrote. 

Hibner said, “We have work to do and we will do it. This isn't just a Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District issue. It also isn't just a middle school or educational issue. Educators need help from families and the larger community. Bullying isn't just going to end in schools no matter what systems we put in place unless there are also supports at home and in the community.”

The US Department of Education estimates that 18-20 percent of students report being bullied each year in the US. Some districts, including Wisconsin Rapids Public Schools, have begun fining parents when their kids bully other students. 

Lobe and Sahran, frustrated with what they see as the school’s lack of action, took their concerns to the MCPASD Board of Directors meeting on Oct. 28. 

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