Puyallup Herald

Bullying pervasive at Emerald Ridge High, school response insufficient, student protesters say

Students at Emerald Ridge try to stanch bullying

Three students talk about their experiences being bullied at Emerald Ridge High School and are organizing to reduce it.
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Three students talk about their experiences being bullied at Emerald Ridge High School and are organizing to reduce it.

Some students at Emerald Ridge High School contend bullying is “out of hand” at the Puyallup-area school, and they are demanding that something be done about it.

The bullying has included physical altercations between students and verbal harassment from teachers, according to a post on the social media site Reddit by someone who claims to be an Emerald Ridge student. There has been a lack of action from administrators and teachers, the post states.

About 30 students participated in a walkout last week to bring the school administration’s attention to the issue. They painted signs and chanted, “We are not ER.” They also have met during an open period to share their concerns and experiences.

“We mainly did (the walkout) to get the attention of the staff and principals to show them that we are doing it for a reason and that we’re not going to give up until changes are made,” said Emerald Ridge junior Payton Stamm.

The walkout was peaceful, Puyallup School District communications director Brian Fox said, adding that Emerald Ridge principal Richard Lasso addressed concerns of the students and supported their right to free speech.

“ERHS administrators and security have had multiple conversations with students over the past week — some in groups as large as 200, and several with small groups and individuals. Administrators are working closely with students to listen, dialogue, and give students an opportunity to express their concerns,” Fox said in an email to The Puyallup Herald on Dec. 13.

The topic caught the attention of the community after the post appeared on Reddit earlier this month.

“Bullying runs wild with repercussions that result in no more than a private talk with a counselor, teachers acting inappropriately is swept under the carpet by higher ups, and mental health support is a joke,” wrote the Reddit user u/Shhio1.

In one instance, the user claimed a student was assaulted for being transgender.

“I’m not trying to say that the school must completely stop bullying because in reality, bullying will never be fully stopped,” continued the Reddit user. “What I am saying is Emerald Ridge needs to take responsibility for their horrid actions, and the ones not taken.”

The Reddit post also caught the attention of district officials and Lasso, who sent an email to families last week.

“We believe the post was made by a current ER student,” Lasso wrote in the email. “All the incidents described (some from this year and others from years past) appear to have happened, albeit the details expressed have a range of factuality.”

Two days before the walkout, students from Puyallup High School and Emerald Ridge and family members expressed their concerns about district-wide bullying at the Dec. 10 Puyallup School Board meeting.

“I was so scared to go to school I would cry at home to my mom asking her not to make me go to school because I didn’t want to get beat up,” one student said in a video shared across Facebook.

Emerald Ridge junior Isaiah Johnson was one of the students who spoke at the board meeting and helped organize the walkout. He said the current protocol being used by teachers and administrators to address bullying isn’t working.

“All they do is write a no-contact order and have those students sit in a room and talk about it,” Johnson said. “The no-contact order says there will be continuous discipline, but when it’s brought back up again, nothing happens.”

No-contact orders vary from situation to situation, but in general, they prohibit students from talking to or about one another. If a no-contact order is violated, discipline escalates from a talk with administrators to detention to suspension.

Junior Lauren Thomas started as a new student at Emerald Ridge a year ago and said she was continually told by another to “kill herself.” A no-contact order was issued against the student, but Thomas said the harassment is still happening, despite her telling administrators.

“It was just continuously over and over again, ‘We’ll talk to her, we’ll talk to her, we’ll talk to her,’ and nothing was ever done,” Thomas said.

Fox said that students aren’t always told if discipline is taken against another student because of privacy reasons.

All bullying reports are maintained by a district compliance officer. The district partners with local law enforcement for its school resource officers, who are made aware of HIB reports that could potentially lead to legal action.

During the 2017-18 school year, there were 1,089 incidents spanning kindergarden through 12th grade coded as either bullying, harassment or threats, said Char Krause, Puyallup School District director of student services and school safety.

When a student alleges a bullying incident, district policy calls for school administration to:

“Student safety is always our top priority,” Fox said in an email. “It’s hard to respond to individuals who have concerns since each incident is handled individually and information is kept confidential.”

Fox said the process repeats if a student breaks a no-contact order.

Johnson hopes to see change with students speaking out. He said he wants the district to re-train teachers, staff and security in bullying situations and make violations of no-contact orders more strict.

“I believe it’s taken way longer than it should have for us to speak up. We’ve all had past experience with bullying, and it hurts a lot knowing that other people are going through it,” Johnson said.

Johnson, Thomas and Stamm said they’d like to see student-to-student counseling implemented. They’ve met with staff at Glacier View Junior High with ideas to talk to students there about bullying and to offer one-on-one conversations.

“They could come talk to us if they had questions or if they just needed somebody to talk to,” Thomas said. “A lot of the time kids feel more comfortable talking to other kids about it.”

The district works with groups outside the district to provide mental health resources, but there is currently no mental health counselors in Puyallup schools.

Students say they’re going to continue to meet during the week to share their stories.

“We started this, we intend to finish it,” Johnson said at a forum. “We’re not going to stop until we have change.”