BULLYING VIDEO: Shows Minnesota Mom’s Frustration

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(CNN) — Sarah Cymbaluk of Fosston, Minnesota, is a frustrated mom who took matters into her own hands. After claiming that her daughter was repeatedly bullied on the school bus and the school did nothing about it, she posted a video on Facebook.

In the video, Cymbaluk asked her crying daughter, “Tell me how it makes you feel.”

Her daughter, who turned 9 on Tuesday, responded, “It makes me feel sad and scared, and I don’t like it.”

“She’s been called into the principal’s (office) and made to feel like it’s her fault,” Cymbaluk told CNN affiliate KXJB, claiming the bullying has gone on since December. “She’s been told to ignore it. She’s been told to disregard it. Basically she’s been told to stuff her emotions and get on with life.”

Fosston Schools Superintendent Mark Nohner, who said he thinks the situation could have been resolved without going to Facebook, said he learned about this issue only recently but conceded “somewhere along the line” the case “fell through the cracks.”

“And so we need to review our procedures and policies and maybe do a better job of articulating to the parents what we’re doing,” said Nohner.

While Cymbaluk has come under some fire for posting the video of her tearful daughter, this case demonstrates how angry and helpless parents can feel when they believe their child is being bullied and that nothing is being done to stop it.

‘You want to do something to help your child’

Becki Cohn-Vargas, a parent of three grown children, is a former principal, superintendent and teacher with more than two decades of experience in education. She is now director of Not in Our School, a program that works to create networks of schools that are free of bullying and offers a guide to parents on how to deal with bullying behavior.

“Without knowing all the details of the case, what I can say is that I can understand a parent’s frustration because I, as a parent, have moved my child from a school … so I know that you feel desperate,” said Cohn-Vargas, who transferred her own daughter to another high school years ago because of a bullying incident. “You want to do something to help your child.”

The key is focusing on the most effective methods to make sure your child feels safe. That begins with talking with your child and determining whether they have, in fact, been bullied, she says.

“It isn’t supportive to your child to just jump in and defend when you don’t know exactly what happened,” said Cohn-Vargas, co-author of the book “Identity Safe Classrooms: Places to Belong and Learn,” who says she’s had her share of experiences as a principal with parents coming in with “guns blazing.”

“I had so many cases where parents … felt like they had to defend their child because they thought that was support.”

Parents might first encourage children to try and handle the situation by standing up for themselves and telling the bully to stop. If that doesn’t work, the next stage would be working up through the chain of command, said Cohn-Vargas, beginning with the person closest to where the alleged bullying took place, such as a teacher if it took place in the classroom or a bus driver if the incident happened on a bus and then moving on to the principal and the school district.

“I am not trying to underestimate that it’s hard because school districts sometimes put their head in the sand, they don’t want to see what’s happening, but I think more and more school districts are very pro-active,” said Cohn-Vargas.

‘Document, document, document’

Nancy Willard, director of the group Embrace Civility in the Digital Age, which works on combating cyberbullying and author of “Positive Relations @ School (& Elsewhere),” doesn’t totally agree.

She says she hears from far too many parents who say schools are rationalizing bullying behavior, saying things like “It wasn’t that big of a deal” or “You’re overreacting” or “Your kid needs to learn how to deal with it.”

Willard, who has created her own empowerment guide for parents, says her first advice is to “document, document, document.”

Parents should chronicle what happens, what staff were around and what they did, what the impact has been in terms of emotional distress, how the alleged bullying behavior may be interfering with the child’s education and after-school activities and what the school response has been, said Willard.

If the school is not responding, a parent can go the person charged with responsibility for ensuring safe schools at the district level, she said. “If you don’t get help at the district level, then you go to the State Department of Education.”

If a child is being bullied and there is a civil rights violation, a parent can file a civil rights complaint either at the state or federal level, she added.

“Parents need to know that they have more power,” said Willard.

A focus on reconciliation, not punishment

She said parents should not be focused on punishment, which could lead to retaliation and more pain for the bullied child. Instead, they should ask the school to see that the person responsible for the hurtful behavior gets help since other problems may be pushing them to bully and work with the school to create an opportunity, at some point, for the child who caused the pain to make amends.

Cohn-Vargas adds that parents should refrain from immediately trying to schedule a meeting with the parents of the child doing the bullying.

“It’s because it can turn into conflict between adults,” she said. “It just can get ugly really fast.”

Willard said part of the reason why she created her parent guide in the first place is because she believes parents can help schools make positive change.

“If we’ve got 1.4 million kids who are experiencing hurtful acts at school each week, that’s a fair number of parents who if they got motivated could encourage and empower change,” she said, citing numbers from a 2011 Youth Voice project on bullying.

Cohn-Vargas believes schools and school districts are “in the beginning stages of addressing bullying effectively.” She believes only a multifaceted approach will succeed — one that includes empowering students to identify issues and solutions, teaching bystanders to stand up against bullying and looking at bullying as a learning experience where kids can move on and change.

She cited a recent case involving a middle school, which worked with her program, Not in Our School. Three boys photoshopped a picture of an eighth- grade girl, adding a swastika, a naked image and an anti-gay slur, and circulated the photo.

School officials identified three students were responsible, including one Jewish student, and wanted the children to really learn from the incident. They came up with the idea of having the students do research on the topics involved including the history of the swastika, said Cohn-Vargas.

“So what does the school do to handle it right? They take it seriously, they investigate. They look at it as a learning experience,” she said.

“All children at some point end up being either a victim, a bystander or someone who does the bullying and so it’s a matter of creating a learning opportunity for the kids.”

Do you think schools are doing enough to stop bullying? Chime in in the comments below.

17 comments

  • Amanda Sunkle

    It needs to stop. I know there has been a lot of kids that have killed there selfs because of it

  • Pam Flanigan

    While there has always been bullying and there will probably always be, I do believe that some individual students, teachers, schools, principals, and superintendents handle the situation in more timely and proficient ways than others. Parents and families should be involved in the process but usually cannot bring as much to the table as those who are present or are responsible for the student bully or the one who is being bullied. It takes communication at its highest level to keep bullying out of schools. We all must be vigilant at all times.

  • kassandra Bryant

    I can’t stand bullying. I got bullied and beat up as a child. The bullying needs to stop.

  • Sarah

    I’m a mother of a 14 yr old boy who has been bullied over the last two years at school. The school is “doing what they can, but since they don’t see it happening there is nothing they can do.” So I know its wrong but I told him to ignore them n they will stop. He then came to me recently n told me they havent, n he got suspended because he choose to stand up for himself. So I went a step further I know this was wrong but I told my son to fight back. After two weeks of being pushed around my son finally fought back. The school tried to kick him out but I have documented everything even a voice recorder. So they had no choice to let him stay in school the kids that were trying to beat up my son now have stopped. The verbal bullying continues still but they have to try beating on him. If parents took the time with their children n taught them the meaning of wrong from right n helped them cope with whatever they are having trouble with instead of looking at their child n thinking they can do no wrong, the bulling would stop.

    • Patti Guy Sheeler

      I did the same thing to my son. I first told him to ignore them and then I just said to fight back. That I would stand behind him 100% This was in Jr. High. In High School, my son had more friends that he knew what to do with. He now is an adult and still has a vast number of friends.

  • Stop_babying_kids

    Having the kid’s mom interfere with a bully is just going to make it worse for the kid. Either she, the kid, stands up for herself or she keeps taking it and the bully keeps doing it. There was a very annoying bully in my neighborhood that kept after me for quite a long while, that is, till I turned around and popped him in the eye! He left me alone after that. Authority figures aren’t going to stop bullying. Laws aren’t going to stop bullying. Often times the rules and laws are so ineptly written or implemented as to toss the baby out with the bath water.

    What will take care of the majority of bullying is a kid that learned to stand up for themselves and stop it on their own!

    This is one of the few times ‘old fashioned’ justice makes sense.

  • niki

    That’s sad. If somebody bullied my kid I’m going to the school smacking the teacher and the kid. Nobody hurting my babies and bullying is so bad TEACHERS even do it! I went thru hell at AMES HIGH SCHOOL

  • james tish

    having your kid stand up and fight back usually doesnt work as my son and i found out because thats what i told him to do and he ended p with assault charges on his record because the schools wont get off thier dead asses and do anything about it because thier are too afraid that little johnny’s mom and dad will raise hell if they disipline them and yes this happened at a school right here in the des moines area ie : S.E. polk schools!!!!!Q

    ;

  • Gerry

    It’s unfortunate, and I know there is a lot of people out there that just don’t get it – but parents need to spend less time trying to change the behavior of others and raise their kids not to be victims. “Bullies” only have the power you give them. I raised 6 kids and they had no emotions to hold in because they gave no weight to the words bullies spoke to them. They let them spew their ignorance, brushed off the words and went about their lives. They are all now strong adults teaching their kids the same thing.

    • Brian

      What if your kid is a foot shorter and 80 pounds lighter than the bully? How’s that going to work out for your kid to you think? Bullies only bully others that they are confident they can win against in a fight. In my experience, too often the bullies are in a protected class, children of educators (who protect their own) or athletes, or both. The kids they target are neither.

      • Jess

        I have to agree with Gerry. Your kids need to learn to ignore the verbal stuff. giving a builly a reaction just encourages more bullying. And, I think very little of what is considered ‘bullying’ in today’s world is physical.

  • Ruby

    Simply put “NO” The schools turn a blind eye/ I myself have dealt with this with our own children (Now 20 something adults) and Now again with 2 adopted Nephews. BLAH BLAH BLAH talk talk talk. What they DO SPEAKS SO LOUDLY, (Which is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING) That I Ignore what they are saying. They all act like they are smarter than the parents. Let me tell you something I’ll take my positive parenting track record over their so called child education any day of the week!!!!

  • rose

    My son was bullied at Hoyt Middle School for a whole year. The school councilor called me saying my son was suicidal. He came home with black eye school said was an accident another students elbow met my sons face. Come one really an next day he came home with his whole shoulder bruised up. Kids where bullying him at bus stop they threatened to follow him in our house he told them I would follow me in house my mom has a gun and isn’t afraid to use it those kids went to school an told the principal he said that an they called me in telling me my son was threatening the other kids. When I went to Iowa state board of education Hoyt conviently didn’t have any record of any bullying. On the bus at school or other wise. I told them if they didn’t let me change schools then I’d go to jail cause wasn’t sending my son back to that school. My son grades have came up since he change to other school ( which has a 2 year waiting list to get into) he’s a lot happier also. My daughter was bullied when she was in school also after a girl pushed her down face first in the hallway she got up in her face an told the girl go ahead do it again an I’ll lay u out. An she was one who got suspended not the girl that started it cause the teachers didn’t see her get pushed down but seen her stand up an get in girls face. So I don’t trust public schools anymore. To much of this goes on. An no one does anything about it. It needs to be stopped period when I got bullied in school I ended up sticking the girl in her locker an locked her in it. Janitor didn’t find her for few hrs after school was out she never bullied me again after that.

  • matt

    kids need to stand up for their bullied friends. A bully is less likely to bully someone that has the support of many others. kids that sit by and do nothing when they see bullying are just as bad as the bully. I had a popular kid in school stick up for me when i was younger and being bullied, and the bullying stopped almost instintly. I’m just saying if you see it happening stick up for the person don’t just sit by and let it keep going. you could save a life just by simply saying stop it.

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