SHAFTSBURY >> A parent is withdrawing her children from Shaftsbury Elementary School after what she described as years of bullying that went unaddressed by teachers and administrators.
The parent, whose name has been omitted to protect the identity of the child, said she first approached the administration two years ago about ongoing bullying against her child, which has continued to this day. "This is extremely difficult for me to do," she said, "The unaddressed bullying that my child has endured for two years is unacceptable. During the school year, our child has continuous stomach aches, headaches, and sore throats that manifest from bullying. Her fear of no one hearing her struggles, helping to end the bullying, and her lack of trust in her teachers and principal at Shaftsbury Elementary School bring us to our decision."
"Being told to sit down and disregard a child's concern is disheartening," she continued, "I began to try to resolve these issues two years ago. A plan was put in place by a professional, and her input was voided and disregarded. When in a meeting a teacher says, 'I will not change the way I teach my classroom,' in the presence of myself and the principal, and having nothing said to stop that conversation, is dismaying. At that moment I lost faith in this school. How is that meeting my child's needs? It is not in the interest of any student to be subjected to that kind of closed-minded thinking."
The parent said that all symptoms ended with the school year, but now, with less than a month until the start of school, they have returned. "I am tired of waiting for change to be implemented to better these situations," she said of her and other parents' complaints about bullying, "I am tired of every issue I have brought forward being ignored. Unresolved issues and parent concerns deserve the attention of this board. You are the keepers of this school, and it saddens me that you would not take these matters seriously, as we are the fifth family to remove our family from Shaftsbury because of similar issues."
"It saddens me to be at this point," she said, "This is the school I grew up in, I have so many great memories here, and it infuriates that this is where I'm at to ensure that my child can come to school and feel safe."
Board chairman Fran Kinney apologized to the parent for her experiences, and said he was saddened to see her make the decision to remove her children from the school. "I've said before, I'm going to support (principal Jeff Johnson) and I'm going to support the superintendent," he said, "I think things are going to get a lot better."
"I've waited for two years for things to get better," said the parent, "I know, Jeff, you think you've done everything that you could, but for her to still feel this unsettled and this scared coming back into this school... I can't. I can't do it." She said at one point her child's teacher, despite being aware of the bullying, had had the bully grade her child's spelling test, which she viewed as completely unacceptable, and as enabling further bullying.
At this point, Superintendent Jim Culkeen intervened, saying that further discussion of individual staff members in open session could open the school to legal action, and suggested that Kinney move the conversation in a different direction.
Board member Dave Durfee responded to what the parent had said regarding the board not taking the bullying concerns seriously, saying, "I think that because it's our policy to hear citizen's comments without engaging in a conversation about them, it may appear at times that we are not taking concerns seriously. I just want to say, and I think I speak on behalf of everyone, that we take all of these very seriously."
The Shaftsbury School Board meets the second Wednesday of every month at 6:30 p.m. in the library at Shaftsbury Elementary School. Full recordings of their meetings are available on Catamount Access Television, and on the station's YouTube page.
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.