SIOUX CITY -- Four Sioux City parents and a health care professional in a public meeting told Sioux City School District officials that they have an unresponsive environment when it comes to processing claims by students who say they have been bullied.
Three of those people, including Judy Crosthwait, said that their own children had been bullied. Crosthwait said 15 people had "stated they would kill my child," a daughter at North Middle School.
"She is still scared, guys. She is 14 years old. She has anxiety attacks...I had my child making excuses, 'Mom, I am sick, can you come get me?'" Crosthwait said.
On the heels of a Journal exclusive Friday detailing that North High School student Spencer Rice has no plans to return to that school this year given a tepid response to online bullying, his mother Kristi Rice attended the Sioux City School Board meeting to speak directly to board members.
"We cannot get to a better place without first cleaning up the misunderstandings and the messes. Sweeping them under a rug does no one any good," Kristi Rice said.
Since the discovery of a December online poll that asked whether Spencer should be killed, his mother has battled Sioux City School District administrators in her quest to create a safe environment for her son.
Kristi Rice has said district officials should move on two simple requests -- providing Spencer with a new teacher's aide and approving a transfer to West High School, where the family believes he would find a more supportive environment.
Rice and four others raised their concerns about district policies and other aspects related to bullying during the public forum portion of the board meeting. Because it came during the public forum, School Board President Mike Krysl said members were prevented by law from responding to the assertions by Rice and others. Krysl said it is possible the bullying topic could be placed on the agenda at a future meeting.
Right after Krysl said that, another parent, Jeana Guy, said she had for days worked with Kristi Rice to have Gausman put them on the regular board agenda for a more robust airing of the bullying topic. The two women said Gausman denied that request.
Last week, Gausman told The Journal that federal privacy laws hold that the district could not comment on Rice's specific case, including whether any students have been disciplined for their role in the online poll. Gausman and several board members in limited remarks Monday said district officials take bullying seriously and aim to ably address it when it can't be prevented.
Guy, who has two children in the district, said she's read many email and social media accounts of people taking exception with "inconsistent handling of bullying reports across the district. I obviously cannot comment on the accuracy of this."
Guy added, "We have heard it is frowned upon if teachers file too many bullying complaint forms, and have heard teachers aren’t confident that complaint forms are always followed up on. We hope that if this is the case, that the climate surrounding form submission changes. We can’t expect kids to curb bad behaviors if staff is admonished for reporting them. Our kids are being caught in the middle."
Guy and Rice said they spoke with Gausman and other administrators Monday regarding bullying policy language, then spoke at the board meeting so the broader public would understand places where improvements could be made.
Board member Ron Colling said it is imperative that school officials "make sure we are not putting roadblocks" to promptly addressing bullying charges.
Brandi Boyd was the third parent to say her child was being bullied at the lowest grade levels, citing a daughter who attends Unity Elementary.
"It is now in elementary schools. It is really scary," Boyd said.
"There is just insistent bullying of kids from other kids. It has to be addressed."
District officials have claimed to have made major strides in combating bullying after attracting national attention for the 2011 film, "Bully," which featured an East Middle School student being tormented by peers. In the aftermath of the award-winning film, school officials took a series of actions to ensure parents they were taking the issue of bullying seriously.