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Parents complain of bullying at Westridge Elementary

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By Sal Christ

The families of several students at Westridge Elementary in South Jeffco are alleging that school administrators have failed to adequately address a bullying problem in the third grade gifted-and-talented class, including physical incidents that were later reported to the Jeffco Sheriff's Office. 

According to Amy and Tom Dougherty, as well as Carter Kelton and Melissa Lloyd, a student has targeted their sons and several others for more than three years through name-calling and other forms of verbal bullying and physical incidents involving slapping, punching and choking.

“My son's issues with this student go all the way back to kindergarten,” Lloyd said.

Jeffco Public Schools officials confirmed they have looked into the allegations, but district spokeswoman Diana Wilson said the school took appropriate action and that none of the physical incidents “have risen to the level of an assault on a classmate or to the level of referring the matter to law enforcement.” 

“Every reported incident involving this student's behavior, just like any other student, was investigated by the school administration,” Wilson said. “In the few situations that required action, proper action was imposed to prevent future similar issues.”

Also, sheriff's deputies talked with school officials and concluded in one report that school staff appeared to be taking “appropriate action.” 

However, beyond temporarily adding a second adult to the classroom in January “to ease concerns,” it's unclear what other action was taken.

The school district’s code of conduct states that bullying is prohibited and that any student who engages in it may be subject to classroom suspension, out-of-school suspension or expulsion — particularly in cases where there is habitual classroom disruption. District officials declined to specify what action was taken regarding the accused student, and the child remains enrolled at the school.

Families say they weren’t notified

For Carter Kelton's son, the alleged bullying incidents were more physical in nature and were reported to the Sheriff's Office at least twice.

“My son was assaulted on the playground by this child … and the principal said they'd take care of it,” Kelton said. “… This child recently slammed his lunch tray into my son and spilled hot soup on him. The nurse had to look him over, gave him a new shirt and sent him on his way. I didn't find out about it until my son mentioned it on the way home.”

Kelton reported the soup incident to the Sheriff's Office on Dec. 19 and filed another report Jan. 15 regarding another incident in which her son told her he was punched in the stomach while waiting in the lunch line. 

The Doughertys, too, say their son was regularly bullied by this student over the last year, and another parent — Aurelie Schoemann — filed a report with the Sheriff's Office on Jan. 15 alleging that the same child attacked her son a few days before. In the report, Schoemann said the student charged her son, shoved him into a “sharp object” and began choking him with his jacket. Schoemann states in the report that she was out of town when the incident occurred and heard about it days later.

All four families say the school failed to notify them about the incidents and, in many cases, brushed off their concerns despite the fact that the behavior has continued.

A Feb. 27 letter to parents from Westridge principal Cheryl Borst states that “law enforcement officials determined that no crimes occurred by the student or school officials.” Sheriff's spokesman Mark Techmeyer said the department isn't legally able to charge minors under age 10 with a crime; as a result, the department directed those who filed police reports to contact now-former district superintendent Dan McMinimee if they felt the school wasn't properly handling the situation. 

Parents want more accountability

Going forward, the parents would like the district to develop several policies that would require school officials to “report acts of violence to parents,” help families pursue assistance in situations where they feel the principal or school district isn't acting in a timely manner, and implement “punitive measures” for staff or district personnel who fail to follow those policies. Those requests were submitted to the school board by e-mail Feb. 17.

“The biggest thing is our frustration,” said Tom Dougherty. “Our son said this kid slapped him and is bothering him, and the school basically told us that we weren't in the classroom and couldn't possibly know what was going on there.”

Dougherty's wife, Amy, said their concerns were aired in the hope that all students — including the alleged bully — will have the resources needed to function well in the classroom. 

While other parents haven't had issues with bullying at the school, some have cited a lack of transparency about the situation from the school and the district.

“There is no clarity about what’s going on,” said Timm Meyers, whose daughter is in the same class as the others. “There was a meeting with everyone in the class, Board of Education members and school administrators, and it was just a bunch of government blah, blah — just a bunch of explaining away things without giving us facts.”

The parents of the accused student have not responded to requests for comment.

Contact reporter Sal Christ at sal@evergreenco.com or at 303-350-1035.