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West York parents claim lack of response to bullying in district

When parents and supporters gathered Monday evening to discuss bullying in West York Area School District, their focus was not on changing policy but ensuring the district was held accountable for enforcing it.

Many complained of a lack of response from administration, staff and bus drivers when dealing with bullying issues — some of which went on for years, they said. 

Krystyna Strausbaugh, a fifth-grader at Trimmer Elementary School, said she's been bullied by both boys and girls — pulling her hair, calling her names and hitting her on the bus and at school — but the district hasn't done enough to stop it.

“They never did anything,” she said, adding that the school switched her classes and seat on the bus, but the bullying continues.

The meeting, held at Leg Up Farmers Market on Monday, Jan. 28, was in response to an incident that occurred on the bus to Trimmer on Dec. 21.

Rhonda Lucky greets fellow parents as they arrive for a public meeting to voice concerns about reported bullying in West York School District, Monday, January 28, 2019.
John A. Pavoncello photo

More:Parents to hold meeting on West York district bullying concerns

Rhonda Lucky's 10-year-old son, Ted Grove, was slapped and punched in the face, according to a security video, but the principal told her it was horseplay.

“Ted looked really fearful when we picked him up from school,” she remembered, so she knew something wasn't right.

She contacted Rebecca Lyttle, an attorney from LVH Legal with an office in Lancaster County, who soon heard from at least 18 parents about similar issues in the district.

West York Area School District plans to release a letter to parents addressing their concerns Wednesday, Jan. 30, a spokeswoman for the district said Tuesday.

Bigger issue: “This is bigger than one child,” Lyttle said at the meeting Monday.

She has talked to multiple parents whose kids harmed themselves, tried to kill themselves or had to switch schools to get away from the problem, she said. 

Krystyna’s grandmother, Kerry Mateljan, shared a heartbreaking story of her boyfriend’s daughter, Jennifer Fongheiser, who killed herself on her 14th birthday in 2006 after ongoing bullying in the district.

In some cases, Lyttle said, she heard that it was not just the bullying but the response by teachers and administrators that was emotionally damaging to students.

One student was pulled from classroom to classroom by a teacher and asked to point out the bullies, Lyttle said, while another was told to stop doing things that made other children make fun of him.

Attorney Rebecca Lyttle hosts a public meeting for parents to voice concerns about reported bullying in West York School District, Monday, January 28, 2019.
John A. Pavoncello photo

Michele Brown has two children in the district who have experienced bullying. Her daughter — now in middle school — was bullied in the third grade at Lincolnway Elementary School, which Brown said she reported to the administration at least three times.

Her other daughter, a fifth-grader at Trimmer, threw a punch at a girl who smeared blood on her face, but Brown said she was shocked to hear that a staff member told the girl to hit her back.

“She cries every day” and wants to kill herself, Brown said of the 10-year-old, who has been bullied since kindergarten.

More:EDITORIAL: Bullying cuts teens' lives short

More:OPED: Pa. must make students' mental health a priority

Policies: A major concern is enforcement against bullying on district school buses.

Tracy Manson said her son had called out to his driver for help, but the driver did not do anything — not even when the bus arrived at its next stop — and the district refused to take on volunteers as bus aides. 

Lyttle added that one driver threatened to suspend a child from the bus if his mom called the school about bullying one more time.

The district updated its transportation policy, effective Monday, with more stringent disciplinary procedures, but Lyttle said that while that's great, if the policy is not followed, nothing is getting done.  

Attorney Rebecca Lyttle hosts a public meeting for parents to voice concerns about reported bullying in West York School District, Monday, January 28, 2019.
John A. Pavoncello photo

Plan of action: She said a lawsuit can sometimes spark action. There is strength in numbers, and sometimes it takes holding a mirror up to something to create change, she said.

She is seeking parents or supporters who are interested in considering a class action lawsuit that could result in a court mandate that, if not followed, would hold the district in contempt of court.

But it’s not about retaliating against the district — it’s about holding the district accountable and helping bullies and victims of bullying get the help they need, Lucky said.

Lucky is organizing a coalition — which the public can join through her Facebook page, Team Ted — to brainstorm ideas to give to the school board to help solve the issue.