Kendall Merritt described bullying like a 3-inch hole in your wall.
“You keep saying you’re going to fix it, but you never do,” Merritt said. “Instead, you hang a picture over it so that nobody can see the hole, but you know it’s there. As years go by, there are more holes, and more pictures. People walk in and out of your home, complementing your pictures, but they don’t see the hidden truth. Today, I am here to expose the hidden truth that you don’t see; the broken hearts, ruined self esteems, and damaged reputations due to what happens in your school district right underneath your noses.”
Merritt, who will be a senior next year, was one of several speakers to address the Goose Creek CISD board about the bullying that goes on in the district’s schools and what can be done to stop it.
Merritt said she had been bullied since she was in elementary school. She told how she was hit in the face, called “fat” and “a mistake.” But that was not as bad as when her grandfather was in a serious car wreck.
“He was then Life-Flighted to a hospital and was in critical condition for several weeks,” she said. “Going through this massive tragedy already put my emotions onto the edge. I was riding home on the bus a few days later when a girl sat up and said, ‘I’m glad he almost died. If I were related to you, I would probably want to die too.’ I went home and cried my eyes out for hours, emotionally destroyed.”
Merritt even attempted suicide at age 10.
Katia Smith was another student who talked about how she has been bullied. She was also called names over her weight, had lunch thrown at her, was tripped when she broke her foot, and even was told to go kill herself.
“After talking to my counselors about everything that the bullies were saying, they still didn’t do anything,” Smith said. “They told me the same thing they always do – ‘fill out a report. All I was given was empty promises and false hope.”
All of this eventually led to a suicide attempt.
Kimberli Kosteck, mother of Smith and Merritt, spoke as a parent about bullying.
“Teddy Roosevelt once stated, ‘complaining about a problem without proposing a solution is called whining.’ None of us are here tonight to whine,” Kosteck said. “For over eight years, I have witnessed my children be victims of the cruelty from both other children and teachers. My children have experienced both physical and emotional damage that will follow them the rest of their lives due to bullying at school.”
Kosteck said her children have tried to reach out to administrators but received no help in return.
“My final straw was drawn on Sept. 19 when my child at a mere 13 years old believed her only option left to stop the attacks was to take her own life,” Kosteck said. “Her eighth-grade year included intensive therapy and rehabilitation instead of dances and pep rallies. When my daughter was in ICU, the school did not report my daughter’s situation with appropriate administrators. If I had buried my daughter last September, who would have accepted accountability for her unanswered cries at school.”
Kosteck said statistically, 70 percent of children from 4th to 8th grade will experience bullying.
Nicholas Rice, a former Gentry Junior School student who was a victim of bullying, proposed forming a committee made up of parents, students, teachers, a board member and other community members.
“This committee would form solutions that could deter the bullying statistics that keep rising at an alarming rate among our youth,” Rice said. “I am asking the board to approve the committee being formed and to consider programs that would address the bullying problem in our schools before it gets any worse. We are not here to be the districts enemy or to be a part of the problem. We are here to be a part of the solution.”
During the board’s discussion on future agenda items, Trustee Jessica Woods requested updates in regards to bullying. In addition, Agustin Loredo III, the board’s president, said he is open to the idea of the anti-bullying committee.
“My suggestion was we have training for teachers and administrators and the board as well,” Loredo said. “It is important we do what we need to do to make our students safer. The committee is a really good idea, and the board is going to be looking at it and move it forward. There is no room for bullying in our schools.”
Loredo said he was a bullying victim and his own children have been bullied as well.
“It is our job for kids to feel safe every day,” he said. “All kids matter, and we have to take responsibility for all kids. If we have to form a committee, to me, that is an easy solution.”
New board member Shae Cottar thinks the committee is a great idea.
“Bullying has been around as long as people, but the difference is technology has changed,” Cottar said. “We used to be so insulated from each other, but technology has changed all of that and now it can be done across the world. The nature of bullying hasn’t changed, the avenues are so much more powerful.”
Cottar said the committee should seek multi-faceted solutions.
“We need to better equip the students on how to handle it, as well as the faculty, staff, teachers, counselors and office staff. Communications is going to be key. We need to equip them with the best response to bullying.”