Cross burning a result of bullying
A recent incident when four teens burned a cross victimizing a bi-racial classmate has raised questions about bullying and how the issue is handled in local schools.
Although burning a cross on someone’s lawn is an extreme case of bullying, the 14-year-old victim, Kate Noland, says she’s dealt with racial slurs and derogatory comments regularly at school.
But she said she never reported any of the verbal abuse to school authorities or even her mother because she always thought the boys were joking, even when a statement concerning a noose was made.
“I just got used to it,” she said, adding she even considered one of the boys a close friend.
Sharon Noland, Kate's mother, voiced her concern at a school board meeting Monday night, asking the board to reconsider their student code that allows students charged with a serious crime to return to school and continue playing sports.
She said the school policy is not harsh enough. She worries about the safety of her daughter, and others, having to face the boys when school starts back next week.
"I would like to see justice served to prevent other students from being bullied because of their race," she said.
Noland said she was disturbed to find out how her daughter had been treated in school and was even more alarmed that she seemed to be accustomed to it.
“No child should have to go to school and worry about their race. They shouldn’t be treated any different. We live in the Bible belt — God says to love all the little children,” she said.
Bullying at its worst
Although the cross-burning incident happened off-campus, Noland is concerned the action was a culmination of bullying her daughter encountered during school.
Haywood County Schools Superintendent Anne Garrett said any report about bullying, no matter how minor the case may seem, is taken seriously by the school system.
According to school board policy on bullying, any report is “investigated promptly, impartially and thoroughly,” by the school.
School authorities also have the right to launch a bullying investigation even without a report from a student or teacher.
When the investigation is complete, the complainant is notified of the results within 15 days, Garrett said.
Garrett, who is also the author of Bullying in American Schools: Causes, Preventions, Interventions, said in general, no student should ever feel they need to get used to being bullied.
“I feel like bullying is not acceptable at any level. A lot of it starts off innocently and then it builds up, but to me, it should never begin, and that is something that we continue to teach in our schools is that it’s just not acceptable behavior,” Garrett said.
She said when a parent has concerns about bullying, the school principal is always available to talk.
“In that situation, it would be advisable for the parent to go before the principal or designee and share those concerns and work with the principal to where the students won’t have the same classes anymore or the students are not in the same building at the same time. Sometimes that can be worked out and sometimes it cannot,” she said.
School authorities can keep a student from attending school if he or she poses a threat to other students, Garrett said.
"But if it’s a minor, a child under 16 must be offered some educational opportunity. For 16 and older, we’re not required to do that. We have the authority to not admit them or we can do alternative placement if we need to," she said.
Despite her experience, Kate Noland is eager to start back to school and sports next week.
Although her daughter is a vision of bravery, Noland said she worries about the affect the bullying has had on her.
She also wonders if other teens are going through similar scenarios at school.
“Some kids might not be as strong as my daughter,” she said.