Editor’s Note: Batavia City School District closed all schools last Friday, Dec. 3, following the perception of threats of violence and after the distribution of student-created literature and a proposed walk-out at Batavia High School. Students wanted to bring awareness to bullying and their belief that district officials were not responding adequately to reported incidents of bullying. The district closed after reports of threats of violence at buildings in the district began circulating on social media. Per a press release issued on Dec. 2, District officials "worked in close collaboration with the Batavia Police Department and made the decision to close the schools out of an abundance of caution." Many parents posted comments on social media and responded to The Batavian’s request for interviews. Parents’ full names and their children’s names are not being used to protect their privacy.
To read the response of school and district officials to the parents' complaints, click here.
Lidia’s Story …
She would often come home distraught after being verbally taunted at Batavia Middle School.
She would tell her mom that kids called her names and told her to “go back where you came from,” which prompted the teenager to ask why. Why should she want to go back to Texas, she wondered.
No, that’s not what the kids meant, her mom Lidia said. Being of Hispanic and Native American descent, Lidia’s daughter was instead being asked to go back to Mexico, Lidia said.
“She would come home crying, saying ‘I’m from here,’” Lidia said Sunday to The Batavian. “I just want (district leaders) to realize there’s a problem at school. There’s bullying everywhere, and maybe the teachers, the Board of Education, the principals will pay attention.”
Lidia’s family moved from Texas to Batavia six years ago. It was mostly in the middle school that her daughter suffered from name-calling with “racist and homophobic slurs,” her mom said. The teenager, who is also gay, required counseling, a prescription medicine for depression, and, at one point earlier this year, hospitalization for her compounding mental health issues, her mom said.
When the verbal assaults continued, albeit not quite as harsh as in middle school, the current high school senior finally had enough. She and some friends decided to organize a walk-out, promoted with a flyer, and advertise the bullying wrongs in a pamphlet, both created by Lidia’s daughter.
She asked her mom what she thought of the idea. It wasn’t just for Lidia’s daughter, but for those others she saw getting bullied as well with nothing being done by the school district.
“Her biggest concern was a lot of people were getting bullied and no one is doing anything,” Lidia said. “They were alone in this; she felt that maybe having a walk-out might bring it to the attention of others. I told her to go ahead, and I was going to be there. She ruffled some feathers, she put a spotlight on it.”
The pamphlet’s cover page features a Batavia Blue Devil with “Batavia School Kills” at the top. It continues to state “Don’t tell us students to do better. Don’t try to place the blame on us. Staff Members are useless. They don’t care about us.”
Due to the use of students’ names throughout the pamphlet, The Batavian is not going to publish it here. Batavia city schools “allow racism, homophobia, sexism, and misogyny, but won’t allow our shoulders to be exposed,” it states. There are a number of alleged bullying scenarios described, including boys yelling homophobic comments, someone being screamed at to kill him/herself by another student, and using "nig- - -," "faggot" and "stupid Jew" to describe fellow students.
There are some educational components of defining particular words, such as ableist, transphobic, racism, sexist and anti-Semitic. A couple pages have big bold letters asking “What the F- - -.”
Lidia’s daughter has been suspended from school for violating the Code of Conduct. She will receive tutoring at a site away from the high school for an indefinite period of time. Her mom is still waiting for instructions from the district administration.
Holly’s Story …
Bullying with no repercussions seems to be a common complaint amongst parents and their children. Holly has two children in the district and one who graduated two years ago. The 10th-grader is bi-racial and diagnosed with autism spectrum.
Bullying has driven her online, her mom says.
As the victim of consistent racist name-calling — with no end in sight — the 15-year-old withdrew from the brick and mortar school in May and studies completely online now.
“So a lot of people don’t know that I had been basically bullied out of school due to racism, being called names such as ‘nig- - -‘ and ‘monkey,’ she said in an online post provided to The Batavian by her mother.
Although her daughter told teachers and counselors about the situation, she contends that the alleged bully remained in school with no apparent accountability, Holly said.
“They were aware of it,” she said. “The situation continued.”
Her daughter ended up making some poor choices in response to the verbal attacks, her mom said, and is willing to face the consequences. District leaders “were quick to give her suspension,” she said, but what about the other student?
“She continues to say things,” mom said of the alleged bully.
Both Lidia and Holly said that their children were offered a solution of removing themselves from the classroom and/or hanging out in a counselor’s office. Only problem with that was her child’s bully would sometimes also be in that counselor’s office, Holly said.
She discussed the issue with district leaders in May and June of this year, without an acceptable solution, Holly said. And although she admits that her child is not perfect, she would like to see more being done to address bullying.
“I think awareness definitely needs to take place,” she said. “My frustration is there’s a zero-tolerance policy.”
That means if two students get into a physical altercation, even if one of them was defending him/herself, that person could also get penalized. Holly feels that’s unfair.
“I think when these kids go to the teachers, there should be some kind of mediation between all parties involved,” she said. “Kids lose faith in the system if they’re going to teachers and nothing can be done. The BHS principal said that anyone who walks out will be suspended. Kids wanted to peacefully protest bullying. What’s being done about her being bullied?”
Regardless of district action, or inaction according to parents, both daughters weren’t going to wait around for someone else to help them. Lidia’s daughter drafted the printed literature to distribute, and Holly’s daughter created a petition at change.org.
The online petition, posted publicly by Ellie, has received 84 votes so far, with a total of 100 being sought. Her reason wasn’t “so much of being safe, but I’ll feel better as a person if I wasn’t attacked in school for my skin color,” she explained in the petition. She went on to request that “the student who has been racist to a lot of students at my school and me” be removed from school.
“It’s not fair that students who have been attacked with racism by this person go to school and not know if this person is going to say those things again,” she said, adding that it’s not acceptable.
Sherri’s Story …
For Sherri’s daughter, she opted to get physical. After dealing with a boy’s ongoing sexual harassment in her junior year, the girl slapped him in the face after first attempting to confront the bullying by reporting it to teachers, Sherri said. The end result was punishment for both sides. She got two days of in-school suspension and was suspended from school for one day. The boy was given two days of suspension.
Sherri referred to a program that she believes isn’t being well promoted by the district. Sources of Strength, a peer-to-peer mentoring program, offers viable emotional support for troubled students, she said. Due to last year’s pandemic and kids staying home, this program isn’t well known in the district community, she said.
Sources of Strength is a high school group with the message “We Belong!” It initiated a March 2021 campaign in the district newsletter. Sources of Strength is a suicide prevention program with approximately 70 BHS student members, called peer leaders, and six adult advisors, the newsletter stated.
Holly plans to keep her daughter out of school and online for the remainder of this year. She plans to wait and see “how this year plays out.”
“She is extremely bright and is doing higher-level classes at 15 … so she can get out of school as soon as possible because it is so stressful,” the proud mom said. “There are some good teachers there, some good people there, but all it takes is one rotten apple to spoil the bunch.”
Top photo: Batavia PD's resource officer worked at the school during the closure on Dec. 3 and another officer happened to be at the school at the time the photo was taken. Photo by Howard Owens.