Nearly four years ago a high school student beat Tonya McBryar’s 13-year-old son on an Ooltewah School bus, leaving him with a brain injury, Ms. McBryar said at the Hamilton County School Board meeting Thursday.
With three Ooltewah High basketball team members recently being charged with aggravated rape and assault of their 15-year-old teammate, the community jumped on the opportunity to speak at the School Board’s public forum regarding school bullying.
Hamilton County resident Ms. McBryar said next week marks the four-year anniversary of her son’s vicious beating, which took place when he allegedly stood up for his friend who was being bullied on the bus. In doing so he took a blow to the head, then was beaten while unconscious.
Ms. McBryar said over $20,000 in medical bills resulted from her son’s assault. The School Board’s insurance company reportedly contributed nothing towards the expenses.
“And to think I lost my case,” Ms. McBryar said, referring to the lawsuit she filed against the Hamilton County Board of Education for child abuse neglect.
She said her son went on to receive his GED from Chattanooga State and does not want to go to college because of his traumatic experience.
“You failed my child,” she accused Supt. Rick Smith. “I cannot believe that you can stand here and tell all these parents to stand up to bullying.”
A student said she transferred to another county high school because of bullying, but had to go back to her original school because of transportation problems. She said teachers act more like the students’ friends instead of teachers.
“It’s hard to learn in school now,” she said.
Before the public forum took place, the School Board began what will be a lengthy process of changing up to 13 school policies to better define bullying, hazing and intimidation.
“What we see as bullying may not be what (the students) see as bullying,” School Board Member Karitsa Mosley said in light of the push to have a concrete definition of bullying for both administration and students to utilize and understand.
Karen Glenn, director of Students Taking A Right Stand (STARS) who uses student surveys to help train Hamilton County School employees in bullying prevention, said her organization has found that people do not really understand what bullying is.
Offering a solution to this, Ooltewah resident Colonel Wayne Rich advised the School Board to focus on creating standards rather than altering rules.
“Rules are meant to be broken. Standards are made to be achieved.”
Colonel Rich highlighted the Marine Corps’s Core Values Program that aims to set and improve upon character values, such as doing one’s best to do what is right.
Kyle Duckett, a former Ooltewah High School football player, said his coaches never condoned bullying, and that they helped shape him into the man he is today. He defended the three OHS officials who Supt. Rick Smith suspended for the rest of the year without pay for their alleged failure to report child sexual abuse on the boys’ basketball team.
“To be out on a witch-hunt to get people fired is just wrong,” Mr. Duckett said.
The officials who were suspended are Athletic Director Jesse Nayadley, Head Basketball Coach Andre Mongomery, and Assistant Coach Karl Williams. They are also being charged for not reporting the Ooltewah High basketball rape case to the proper authorities.
Mary Jo Clark, who has been around the School Board for many years, and who knew some of the board members as students, does not know a time in the 50 years she has been involved in the school system that has been more difficult. She said there were people other than her who appreciated what the School Board members have gone through since Dec. 22 when three upper classmen sexually abused their freshman teammate, causing him to have emergency surgery.
“I wish you all well, and I love you,” Ms. Clark said.
Jennifer Woods, child advocate and former Hamilton County teacher of 34 years, would like to see a better partnership between Hamilton County schools and the Hamilton County juvenile court come out of this “unfortunate” event.
“It takes a village to raise a child. We are the village of Hamilton County. If we lose one child, that’s one child too many,” Ms. Woods said. She encouraged the School Board to take this horrible situation and turn it into an opportunity to make this school system the best in the country.
One step the Department of Education has already taken to better monitor bullying is an anonymous reporting system that went up last night on all Hamilton County School websites. It is an online form where students can submit anonymous tips to principals and school directors on bullying and other applicable topics.
This did not appear to sooth the mother whose 13-year-old son was allegedly hit by a Hamilton County teacher, causing him to go to the hospital.
Nor did it appease the grandmother whose granddaughter was physically assaulted at East Lake Academy. The 12-year-old granddaughter reportedly went to the hospital with black eyes and was put in therapy from being bullied. Yet she was suspended for the rest of the year on the grounds of making false statements, the grandmother said.
According to the grandmother, her granddaughter is a straight A student who had never been in any fights before. The grandmother allegedly had meetings with the school about the bullying, but nothing ever happened.
“I feel like the school system has failed a 12-year-old girl,” the grandmother said, echoing Ms. McBryar.
But the board is very interested in helping the 12-year-old granddaughter, Supt. Smith said. And because the grandmother and Assistant Supt. Dr. Lee McDade met prior to the public forum to go over solutions for the granddaughter’s situation, Supt. Smith stated, “Obviously, there’s much more to this.”
Addressing all of the parents who spoke on behalf of their bullied children at Thursday night’s forum, School Board Member and Chairman of the Policy Committee Dr. Greg Martin said, “I’m very sorry. I know all of us on this board are sorry.”
He said the process for the School Board to change policies takes a lot of time under most circumstances.
Nevertheless he assured, “We are not asleep - the nine of us up here.”