WELLINGTON — District leadership expressed regret over the school board members not responding to an emotional father who said during Tuesday’s board meeting that his daughter is being bullied.
Superintendent Ed Weber and members of the school board said when Samuel Oney spoke about his 14-year-old daughter, a freshman, during the public comment portion of the meeting, it was the first time they had heard about the situation.
During a phone call Wednesday, Weber said he struggled with how to respond after Oney said his daughter comes home crying every day because of how students treat her.
“I didn’t want to sound trite and take his feelings away, and I didn’t have come to me the appropriate, compassionate response,” Weber said.
There’s also the issue of liability and that the board typically addresses policy issues while school administrators deal with discipline.
“We will make multiple opportunities to engage and communicate with the family, how much we want to do in a public setting. … He can talk about his daughter, but it’s much different for us to engage,” Weber said. “But thinking back, ‘I’m sorry you had this experience and I’ll be following up with you’ may be the best response.”
Weber said the board’s silence to the father was upsetting and he heard from people in the community who expressed disappointment.
“I should have said something at the risk of sounding trite,” Weber said. “Those are just difficult situations, and I’m sorry we let people down and I’m committed to making things right.”
Oney said his daughter didn’t go to school Tuesday or Wednesday, but the family expected to have a meeting with the district today to talk about how to move forward.
When reached Wednesday, Oney said his daughter has been bullied at McCormick Middle School and now at the high school. He said he called the district multiple times about the issue when his daughter was in eighth grade, but nothing came of it.
“She’s talked to her counselors and to her principal. It’s been brought to their attention many times,” Oney said. “It’s an ongoing issue. Nothing happens.”
The district in recent months has been open about what it says is a culture of bullying in the schools. In response, the schools are partnering with the Lorain County Board of Mental Health and bringing the Applewood Center for additional counseling sessions in addition to contracting with a program called LifeAct to address suicide awareness.
In September, 15-year-old Tyson McKinley comitted suicide after years of struggling with depression and feeling isolated from his classmates.
Oney said he left the board meeting Tuesday feeling frustrated after not getting a response.
“They looked at me like I had three eyeballs, like I was speaking a foreign language. They had a dumbfounded look on their faces like this is all new information, and I
didn’t know what to think,” Oney said. “I asked them again for a response and I got nothing, so I was very frustrated.
“I’m not saying they don’t care, but at least say, ‘Hey, Mr. Oney, we’re sorry this is going on,’” Oney said.
School board member Dan Rosecrans said many on the school board were shocked because they didn’t know about the situation.
“We’re sitting there literally dumbstruck,” Rosecrans said. “We can’t comment on things like that when we don’t have information on what happened. I understand his pain and I understand his question. Had I not been so dumbstruck … Policies are in place and practices are in place that afford, we hope, every child a safe school to come to.
“Obviously he feels and his daughter feels that those policies and practices are not sufficient for her. We have to look at that. If we need to change some things, tweak some things, then we need to do that,” Rosecrans said.