Bullying is believed to be a leading factor in the suicide of a 10-year-old girl in North Carolina, who was found dead in her family home on Nov. 14. Stories like these have become more and more frequent in America as school bullies have turned to the Internet as a means for continuing their attacks against other students after school hours.
Locally, a Verona mother says her son was the victim of frequent in-school bullying that resulted in physical fights between him and two other students at a Propel McKeesport, a Propel Schools charter school. Kelly Smithson also claims her cries to school administrators were ignored because her son was Black and his alleged attackers were White.
“My son came home and told me that these children have been verbally making fun of him and that the child kept jumping in his face. The next morning, May 6, 2011, I had went to the school and have expressed our concern of bullying. The assistant principal found it hard to believe when I gave him the children’s name,” Smithson said in a letter to the New Pittsburgh Courier. “At 11:30 a.m. the assistant principal called me to tell me that my son has been suspended for three days for fighting and added four more days. The child whom he was fighting did not receive the same consequences.”
The incident involving Smithson’s son continued into the 2011-2012 school year, resulting in another fight before she decided to remove him from the school.
Now the McKeesport police are filling charges against her son, whom Smithson said is an honor student with no previous record. The police did not return calls.
“I believe that my son has been discriminated against based on my son’s race. Two witnesses had told the principal how this boy was harassing my son in the classroom, the children whom had witnessed this told the principal what the child was doing to my son before the fight. My son has always stated that the teachers at this school won’t listen to him,” Smithson said. “If my son was White, I believe he would have been treated fairly, and I believe that because these other children are White they had gotten away with bullying.”
Although Propel McKeesport Principal Hampton Conway said he couldn’t comment specifically on the incident involving Smithson’s son, he said the school addresses incidents of bullying if they are reported. Propel’s anti-bullying policy, which can be found on the school’s website, includes a list of procedures for mediation which include peer support groups, parent conferences, student counseling, restitution and restoration.
“We have an actual anti-bullying policy. Once we are made aware of a bullying situation, we take whatever actions to mediate students. Obviously we involve the parents and make them aware so we do take it very seriously. If we are made aware of a bullying situation we take care of it,” said Conway who was the assistant principal at the school when the incident began in May 2011. “All I can say is we absolutely take bullying very seriously, we don’t ignore it; we don’t neglect it. These days there’s even the bullying that goes on outside of school and we could take a step back from that, but we take that just as seriously and try to get parents involved if we find it is occurring.”
Smithson said both she and her son reported the bullying to teachers and school administrators. Still in November when the second fight occurred between her son and the other student, one of the boys involved in the original May fight, she said the school suspended her son and allowed the other student to return to school the following day.
“A lot of times I believe if it was a child who was White who was reporting they were being bullied, I believe they would’ve taken it seriously,” Smithson said. “My son reported it and he was ignored. When I initially went to the school in May I asked for some kind of intervention and I was denied that.”
The McKeesport police department could not be reached for information on charges being filed against Smithson’s son.