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Anderson County Schools families share concerns about bullying incidents

Anderson County High School
Posted at 6:00 PM, Nov 16, 2023

LAWRENCEBURG, Ky. (LEX 18) — Families with students in the Anderson County School district have shared their concerns about bullying incidents and how they're handled.

The families say that bullying has been a continuing issue, and they feel that the district administration is not doing everything they can to acknowledge and solve the problem.

Families share ongoing concerns about bullying. One grandmother, Donna Devers, says her grandsons have faced racial discrimination, bullying, and threats. She invited other families into her home to work together to find a solution.

Devers says, "I just thought this is so important. You know that it’s happening not only to us but other families as well. So, what better way than to get together and share and make our voices known as one."

Devers’ grandson Camdon Higgins says he'd experienced bullying within the school system for some time — including one incident his freshman year, where he says he and his girlfriend at the time were confronted in a hallway. In a report to his school, he describes how the incident escalated online — where a student sent him threatening images with a gun. This year, Higgins transferred out of Anderson County Schools.

He explains, "I transferred because I wasn't getting treated good there. Like, I just wasn't fitting in. There wasn't much diversity, and you could feel it so..."

Another student, Devin Waldridge, wasn't ready to be interviewed. His family says he has special needs. The week this interview was shot, he'd just been involved in an incident at Anderson County High School that his mom shared sent him to the hospital. He was seen for blunt head trauma, a concussion, manual strangulation, lacerations, and more.

Waldridge’s father, Kevin Calvert, says, "You know this has been going on since eighth grade, and he's in tenth grade, and it's the same thing, like on repeat. They can't keep him safe."

Reports provided by Anderson County Schools say that a video of the incident was taken and say both students have had words. Weeks before, reports show that "No Contact Orders" were put in place between the students. Waldridge's parents shared screenshots of bullying on social media — saying the students made threats toward their son and them. They have concerns about the district's response.

Calvert says, "I would love to see them admit that they have a problem. That would be great. Which they know they do, they have a bully problem, they have a racism problem, they have all kinds of problems that they don't want to acknowledge. “

The Cornelius family has four students in the school system. The family's son Devon reported racial slurs posted on a bathroom wall; one daughter says a white student asked her if they could call her a racial slur, and her family says she's been harassed about her sexuality as an elementary schooler.

Sara Cornelius says, "If we reported every little incident like I’d have notebooks. Like I’d be calling the school like every day, like, 'hey, hey, hey,' multiple times a day."

This family says they're planning to move out of the school district. It's an option they say they don't think is fair.

Cornelius says, "I don't want to be here anymore. I don't like it anymore. It's disgusting to me. And like I really cannot move away from here quick enough."

LEX 18 contacted Anderson County Schools Superintendent Sheila Mitchell about these concerns. Here are our questions and her responses:

SEVERAL PARENTS IN THE ANDERSON COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT HAVE EXPRESSED CONCERNS ABOUT EXTENDED AND CONTINUED INSTANCES OF BULLYING. THEY SAY THAT THE INCIDENTS HAVE NOT ALWAYS BEEN CLEARLY OR QUICKLY ADDRESSED. WHAT RESPONSE WOULD YOU GIVE TO THEIR CONCERNS?

Bullying, as defined in KRS 158.148, as any unwanted verbal, physical, or social behavior among students that involves a real or perceived power imbalance and is repeated or has the potential to be repeated:  1.  That occurs on school premises, on school-sponsored transportation, or at a school-sponsored event or 2.  That disrupts the education process. This definition shall not be interpreted to prohibit civil exchange of opinions of debate or cultural practices protected under the state or federal Constitution where the opinion expressed does not otherwise materially or substantially disrupt the education process.

 When reports are provided to administration, investigations are conducted. Reports that meet the statute definition of bullying are investigated as bullying.  Discipline is determined based on the outcome of the investigation, and/or the SRO is notified. Communication and follow up is provided to the parent to let them know the concern has been resolved or handled based on the Code of Conduct.

 I have no knowledge of parents claiming that bullying has not been clearly or quickly addressed and can only respond to information provided. 

The response I would give the concerns is to directly contact the principal, a school district administrator, or myself so we can ensure that any concern they believe is not being addressed or has not been addressed is brought to the forefront and handled.  The intention of Anderson County Schools administration at every school and at the district office is to ensure student concerns are handled quickly, within the Code of Conduct, and to find resolve. 

In order to answer the question completely, I would need to know which parents and the student concerns they stated were reported.  Releases from all parents regarding the students involved would need to be obtained in order for me to speak to those student matters.

Every report of bullying is taken seriously and handled appropriately, in a timely manner.  I am certain your review of investigative notes provided showed that concerns are taken seriously, handled timely, and in accordance with the Code of Conduct. 

WHAT IS THE DISTRICT'S POLICY ON BULLYING? WHEN BULLYING INCIDENTS ARE REPORTED, WHAT CHANNELS DO THE COMPLAINTS GO THROUGH? WHAT IS THE DISTRICT'S POLICY ON ADDRESSING THOSE COMPLAINTS?

The district policy regarding Bullying and Hazing is 09.422.   When bullying incidents are reported, complaints determine if they reach the definition of bullying by statute and are investigated by a school administrator as bullying.  Once the investigation is complete, discipline is determined based on the facts and Code of Conduct.  At times, the SRO is notified.  Once the bullying complaint has been resolved, parents are notified. 

ONCE A BULLYING INCIDENT IS REPORTED, WHAT STEPS ARE TAKEN IN THE INVESTIGATION PROCESS? ARE THERE ANY FOLLOW-UP MEASURES TO MAKE SURE THAT THE BULLYING DOESN'T CONTINUE?

The investigation process is as follows:  a complaint is reported; the administrator investigates based on the complaint by interviewing students, watching video, and collecting any relevant information to the complaint. Once the investigation is deemed complete by the administrator, they determine consequences based on the findings of the investigation.  Discipline is based on the Code of Conduct, and parents are notified. 

Administrators do follow up regularly on acts of bullying. The follow-up depends on what took place.  As you noticed in one of the middle school investigations, an administrator daily was assigned to the restroom to provide additional supervision. The additional follow-up is based on the complaint and appropriate measures to avoid future occurrences. 

HOW ARE ANDERSON COUNTY SCHOOL ADMINISTRATION AND STAFF TRAINED TO CONDUCT BULLYING INVESTIGATIONS? HOW ARE ANDERSON COUNTY SCHOOLS ADMINISTRATION/STAFF TRAINED TO MITIGATE STUDENT/PARENT CONCERNS ABOUT CONTINUED BULLYING? DO YOU BELIEVE THAT CURRENT PRACTICES ARE EFFICIENT?

Anderson County Schools board attorney provides trainings on how to conduct investigations.  Administrators consult with the superintendent or district staff if additional guidance is needed.  Based on my knowledge of principal’s investigations, they work very hard to ensure they are efficiently responding to student, parent, or staff-reported concerns.  

HOW MANY INCIDENTS OF BULLYING WERE REPORTED FROM ANDERSON COUNTY MIDDLE SCHOOL AND ANDERSON COUNTY HIGH SCHOOL SO FAR FOR THE 2023-2024 SCHOOL YEAR? HOW MANY OF THESE INCIDENTS WERE RESOLVED? HOW MANY STUDENTS WERE INCLUDED IN THE RESOLUTION? HOW IS AN INCIDENT CONSIDERED RESOLVED?

Incidents reported in the 2023-2024 school year 
 ACHS 10 
ACMS 38

Incidents resolved
 ACHS 10 
ACMS 38

An incident is considered resolved when a resolution is assigned to an event.  The data collected comes from Infinite Campus Tableau Visualization Tool, that specifically looks at Behavior Events vs. Resolutions.  Each referral submitted by a teacher is submitted through Infinite Campus to the appropriate administrator for Due Process.  Once Due Process is complete, a resolution is assigned to an Offender.  Victims are not included in the data count for anonymity.  

FOR THE BULLYING INCIDENTS RELATED TO THE STUDENT RECORDS THAT WERE REQUESTED, WHY WERE THERE NO DISCIPLINARY HEARINGS CONCERNING ANY OF THESE INCIDENTS?

Student violations that are considered for expulsion hearings are outlined in the code of conduct.  They include  repeated long-term suspension, harassment of school personnel, possession or use of alcohol or drugs, sexual acts/abuse/assault, arson or attended arson, sale or transfer of drugs, alcohol, possession or use of explosive devices, possessions or use of firearms or weapons or electronic device violations. For lower-level infractions, the process is informal, and no hearing is required or held.  

OTHER THAN THE "NO CONTACT ORDERS" THAT WERE PUT IN PLACE FOR ONE STUDENT, WERE THERE ANY OTHER DISCIPLINARY ACTIONS TAKEN FOR THE INCIDENTS THAT STUDENTS REPORTED HAPPENING ON SCHOOL GROUNDS? WERE THERE ANY DISCIPLINARY ACTIONS TAKEN FOR THE INCIDENTS THAT THE STUDENTS/PARENTS REPORTED TAKING PLACE ONLINE (SOCIAL MEDIA)?

FERPA and privacy rights of students do not allow me to share disciplinary actions taken for individual students.

DOES THE SCHOOL DISTRICT HAVE A POLICY ABOUT INAPPROPRIATE ACTIONS/BULLYING/THREATS MADE ONLINE/SOCIAL MEDIA?

Yes, it is covered in the Bullying and Hazing policy 09.422 and Telecommunication Devices policy 09.4261

Mitchell says student violations considered for expulsion hearings are outlined in the code of conduct. Including the following: repeated long-term suspension, harassment of school personnel, possession or use of alcohol or drugs, sexual acts/abuse/assault, arson or attended arson, sale or transfer of drugs, alcohol, possession or use of explosive devices, possessions or use of firearms or weapons or electronic device violations. Despite some of these incidents involving alleged assault and threats made via social media -- some allegedly including a weapon and some that could violate the school's "Telecommunication Device" policy -- a Freedom of Information Act Request, response says, no disciplinary hearings were held for any of these reported incidents.

Calvert says, "You know it’s a problem when we're in one house, and there are three or four different families all here for the same problem. But yet, nobody at school will acknowledge anything."

Devers says this day is about connecting and pushing for a change in the school district.

She says, "We just have to, we've got to make them acknowledge their wrongdoings, you know, and like one of the parents said, it can't be fixed unless you acknowledge that there is a problem."