KIYC: Families who report bullying feel no one is on their side - Part 2
Families who file bullying complaints with New Jersey school districts often face obstacles that leave them frustrated, a Kane In Your Corner investigation finds. But one middle schooler is channeling her frustration into an effort to help fellow victims.
Johnai Price, 13, of Roselle, says months of bullying upset her so much that she contemplated suicide, finally sending her mother a video in which she said she “didn’t want to be on this earth anymore.”
“It was devastating,” her mother, Yolanda Price, recalls. “It took the wind out of me.”
Johnai says classmates mocked her daily over her weight. “I would go to the school bathroom and cry,” she says.
The Prices filed two bullying complaints with Roselle schools. The law requires districts to complete investigations within 10 school days and inform parents once the incident is reported to the school board. The Prices say it took five months for the district to tell them it found Johnai had not been bullied.
The decision came in two letters that were so vague that Yolanda Price says she had trouble determining which incident each referred to. The district said one incident did not rise to bullying. In the other, it said staff had found bullying but the school board overturned the decision.
That’s a familiar story, according to families that talked to Kane In Your Corner.
Shaun Persaud says he repeatedly emailed Long Branch schools, inquiring about a complaint he made on behalf of his daughter. Six months after his complaint, he says he still doesn’t know whether an investigation was conducted. Long Branch’s schools superintendent declined to comment.
“We still don’t know, even though it’s over a year later,” says Shantay Phillips. She complained to Piscataway schools in March 2018, after what she calls “intimate photos” of her daughter, Summer, and a male classmate were circulated in the school and on social media. Summer says that led her to be taunted and even physically assaulted by other students.
Johnai Price ran into another problem common in bullying cases. After weeks of verbal abuse, she says a classmate shoved her in the hallway. She pushed back. Because of that, the Prices say the district ruled she was not bullied, based on state guidelines that define bullying in part as “one-sided” aggression.
Several experts on bullying law tell Kane In Your Corner they agree.
But if the system didn’t help Johnai, it did encourage her to help others. She has set up an anti-bullying campaign, “D.O.P.E. Butterfly,” which provides fellow victims with inspirational items.
“I always thought butterflies bring you hope,” she says. “Some of the girls need something like that.”