FORT MILL — Donna Bookhart spends many nights at her computer looking up statistics about bullies and their victims, crying when she reads what often becomes of them both.
Her daughter, 11 years old, is the victim of a bully, she said. The problems began between her daughter, who she asked not be named, and another girl in Bookhart’s neighborhood and spilled over onto the school bus a few weeks ago when she claims that the two got into a fight.
Bookhart’s daughter was suspended from the bus for five days for fighting, Bookhart said. She believes that her daughter only defended herself, was probably involved in a verbal argument, but didn’t start the violence.
Bookhart can’t prove that, however, because the camera on the bus wasn’t working at the time.
Kelly McKinney, spokesperson for the district, said the camera systems on the school buses have had “intermittent” problems. The digital camera system has an indicator light that will, on occasion, be lit, indicating that it is on and recording, but the camera will not record to the memory card.
“The transportation department has been working very closely with the manufacturer to re-create these problems,” McKinney said.
“They were able to replicate the problem and they believe they have a solution. We went through an investment and we expect them to work,” McKinney said.
She added that the district has been “very pleased” with how the manufacturer has responded to the issue.
Bookhart met with school officials to discuss how to prevent further problems on the bus. Because her daughter is in some special-needs classes, she was offered the opportunity to ride the bus for special-needs students. That is not an acceptable option, Bookhart said. Students pick on her daughter now, Bookhart said, and the teasing could become worse if she were singled out by riding a different bus, she added.
“They would crucify her,” Bookhart said. “I can’t put her on that bus.”
She drives her daughter to and from school now.
McKinney said the special-needs bus was just one of “many options” given to Bookhart.
“It’s her choice to drive her,” she said.
McKinney could not discuss Bookhart’s situation further, but said bullying is an issue taken seriously in the district. If there is a case where a student is being bullied, “there is a whole process that goes into play for both the bully and the victim,” she said.
Within the school district, administrators and guidance counselors are frequently learning about how to best handle bullying situations, McKinney said.
“It’s a constant, continuous education and awareness,” she said.
Seminars also have been held by the district to raise awareness among parents about bullying.
Bookhart challenges the entire community to do more to combat bullying.
“The community needs to come together and take bullying serious,” she said.
“Our school board members, our district, they need to make the parents accountable. They need to come together as a group in the church, in the Boys and Girls Club, get some positive role models, because you know even for the bully there is a problem there. We need to decide how do you help the bully?”
In the school district, helping the bully, in addition to helping the victim, is one of the priorities in a bullying situation, McKinney said.
“You never know what is going on with that person,” she said. “We focus on the victim, but the bully is in the process as well, to figure out what is going on to cause the bullying.”
Bookhart worries that victims like her daughter will turn to suicide or become bullies themselves one day if the community doesn’t work together to protect them as children. Bookhart points to crimes such as school shootings.
“When these things happen they say, ‘Oh my God, these people are dead,’ but the person who did it, you look into their background and the person was probably bullied. And the system should have protected them and instead it let them get damaged. I’m not going to lose my daughter, not to no bully,” she said.
Before the bullying began, she said, her daughter was a normal middle-school girl. She was among the students honored by the Fort Mill Police Department’s Do the Right Thing program, a program that recognizes Fort Mill youth for outstanding behavior and accomplishments. Now the girl is showing signs of being traumatized, her mother said.
Bookhart isn’t sure what to do to help her.
“What do we do to make these children feel secure,” she asked, “so they don’t have to bully or feel bullied? So they feel loved?”