About 150 Cuyahoga Falls middle school students staged a peaceful protest outside Bolich Middle School on Wednesday morning to demand harsher punishment for bullies.
Parents also joined the protest because they want more communication from the district about issues related to student safety.
“We had some students last night organize via social media a peaceful protest against bullying,” Superintendent Todd Nichols said. “The parents helped us get the students into the cafeteria, where we ultimately gave them a forum to speak, allowed them to use a microphone and state their concerns.”
The protest stemmed from dissatisfaction over how school officials have handled recent incidents involving student safety, which was exacerbated by the school shooting last month in Chardon.
Three days before that fatal shooting, Falls officials disciplined a student who had brought a gas-powered BB gun to Bolich Middle School. The district worked with Falls police to investigate, but officials decided not to stir up more panic by notifying all the parents using its AlertNow system, Nichols said.
In another incident, a student was disciplined for harassing and threatening a girl in person and on Facebook.
But the girl’s parents weren’t satisfied the school was protecting their daughter’s safety and withdrew her.
“We tried to work with the parents and disciplined the student to the degree that was available,” Nichols said. “The police are involved in that situation.”
He said the girl is back in school, but students and parents still have concerns about how the schools are dealing with bullies.
“One of the things that the students want is increased levels of discipline for those who engage in bullying or threats or harassment and those kinds of things, which we will do,” Nichols said. “They want us to respond stronger from suspensions up to expulsion for those who engage in those behaviors. And, frankly, that has been part of our policy anyway. It has been part of our practice anyway. We’ll just be more vigilant with it going forward.”
Parents want to be kept in the loop about incidents like the BB gun at school. Nichols said the district will use the AlertNow system and also communicate better face to face going forward. He says he wants that communication to go both ways.
“We want our parents to be Facebook police,” Nichols said. “A lot of this starts as a result of social media, conversations on social media that then spill over into our schools.”
The district will host a play at 6:30 p.m. March 26 in the high school auditorium about bullying titled I Have a Secret that he hopes all parents and students in grades 7-12 will attend.
“We need to send a very clear message, now and going forward that we just aren’t going to tolerate these behaviors,” Nichols said.