Mother of bullying victim criticizes Oak Park middle school

Praises police, criticizes school for lack of response


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By Megan Dooley

Staff Reporter

The mother of a sixth-grade Percy Julian Middle School student, who was left bruised after allegedly being punched in the face by a classmate, is speaking out against the school, saying administrators have not taken steps to protect her daughter or to properly discipline the individual responsible for the attack.

Elisabeth Schaffrath said administrators at Julian, 416 S. Ridgeland Ave., confirmed that the incident was captured on school surveillance video, but haven't taken proper action against the 12-year-old boy who allegedly punched and tripped her 13-year-old daughter at her locker, on the afternoon of May 19.

"The school is dragging their feet on this," said Schaffrath. Her daughter finally admitted to the alleged bullying incident on the morning of May 20 after attempting to hide her bruises and making up a story about their origin the night before. Schaffrath said that's because her daughter didn't think reporting it would do any good.

"My daughter's been complaining since the first day of school this year that there's bullying and punching and hitting and tripping every single day, and they do nothing about it. So half the time she hasn't even told us stuff because nothing changes," Schaffrath said.

In this case, Schaffrath said she and her husband found out about the incident when they gathered at the middle school for a sixth-grade field trip last Friday morning. She said they reported the incident to the school, and the student who allegedly hit their daughter was sent home for the day.

A police report was also filed. Oak Park Police Deputy Chief Anthony Ambrose said Thursday afternoon that the battery investigation is underway. "No one has been arrested at this time. ... The police are still investigating the incident," he said.

Schaffrath said the police have been helpful throughout, but she's waiting for an arrest. "We requested his arrest a few days ago, and it hasn't happened yet," she said.

But Ambrose said police make arrests when they feel there's enough evidence to back it up. He said they're still following up on this case.

School officials, on the other hand, have been largely unresponsive and unhelpful since initial reports were made, Schaffrath said.

"The head principal of Julian, the only time I've seen her is Friday, when I sat there with her, the police officer, and the social worker and my daughter told the story," said Schaffrath. "Since that day, one week ago Friday, that principal has not contacted us, has not asked how my daughter is, has not even emailed me to find out how my daughter is or to say we're working on this."

Calls to Percy Julian Middle School Principal Victoria Sharts were not returned. Sharts did release a letter to Julian parents on the morning of May 31st stating that the school is prohibited by law from disclosing specific information about the incident and those involved.

"However, please be assured that we are committed to the safety of our students, and investigate all such incidents thoroughly and in accordance with the district's policies and procedures," the letter read.

Schaffrath said she has been in communication this week with David Benson, the assistant principal for the sixth grade, but he brushed her off. "He's just been dragging his feet for three days, saying we're investigating a tripping game," she said. "The school is trying to say that there's been a tripping game going on, so that's what started it. But my daughter was not involved in any tripping game."

Benson was reached at the middle school Thursday afternoon, but declined to speak with Wednesday Journal.

Schaffrath said the other student was put on in-school suspension Monday and Tuesday, and returned to classes on Wednesday. The victim also returned to school on Wednesday. But by Thursday, the school had still not honored a request to move the other student's locker, which was located some 10 feet from the victim's locker. Schaffrath said she finally resorted to calling the school superintendent on Thursday to initiate the move.

District 97 Superintendent Albert Roberts issued a statement the morning of May 27, responding to the incident.

"District 97 takes all such incidents seriously, handles them in adherence to our policies and the law, and will take appropriate action to ensure the safety of our students."

The letter went on to say that the number of reported incidents has decreased by 30 percent this year.

"Moving forward, we will continue to strictly enforce our discipline policies, and use lessons from our Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS) program to teach children the importance of being responsible for their actions and respectful of everyone they encounter," Roberts' statement read.

Reader Comments

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Oak Park Parent  

Posted: June 7th, 2011 4:56 PM

If you're unhappy with the school's decision, authority and their policy, it sounds like it may be time for a transfer.

Oak Park Parent  

Posted: June 7th, 2011 4:45 PM

There was a statement made by the young lady that she had in fact participated in tripping students. There are other students who have communicated this to the school's police officer and principals. Truth is all parents want to believe their children are innocent but there are three sides to every story. Also it was stated that the parents of the boy requested the "meeting" at the school. If the accident was really as bad as lead on by the girls parent, the Police would have taken more action.

Tony from Naperville  

Posted: June 4th, 2011 4:00 PM

Its terrible to see this happen that the school just ignores what's going because without them not taking action their just sending a message to the kids that its ok and that's what the daughter received from the school too because she didn't report early innocent and if it happens daily. The students that are doing the bullying aren't getting punished and by the school not reacting the kids are going to think that's its ok to trip and hit people and its going to lead to conduct disorder later.

Deja Vu from Oak Park, IL  

Posted: June 3rd, 2011 8:56 PM

Ms. Schaffrath, I am sorry to hear about what happened. I am glad you spoke to all the parties you did. It's unfortunate that you had to go to Dr. Roberts to get a certain Julian administrator to take this more seriously. I hope you have consulted with an attorney and have documented everything. Sadly, I agree with other posters; this administrator needs to be replaced. BTW, D Hurtado, lighten up...your bias is showing.

Elisabeth Schaffrath from Oak Park  

Posted: June 3rd, 2011 12:08 AM

I also want to clarify that most kids do not report bullying, therefore the staff is not aware of the incidents. Kids are afraid to tell on the bully/s. The staff has been responsive to the incident involving my daughter on May 19,including the Superintendent, principal and asst. principals at Julian. I think that we just need to promote and support our kids to be advocates for each other, and encourage their classmates to report these incidents. Staff can't fix issues they do not know about.

Elisabeth Schaffrath from Oak Park  

Posted: June 2nd, 2011 11:45 PM

Thank you to all of you who have supported my family. It is comforting to know that there are caring people out there, even those who we do not know personally. My husband's and my intention has only been to protect our daughter and help her gain confidence in her safety and the safety of her friends while at school.

Elisabeth Schaffrath from Oak Park  

Posted: June 2nd, 2011 11:33 PM

Get the facts:While at Julian last week, my husband saw a boy in a leg splint limping down the hall get tripped by another boy.The boy tripped almost fell, and was upset. This was not a tripping game- it is bullying!Yesterday while a teacher stepped out of class, a 6th gr boy hit a girl in the jaw and the whole class saw it, including my daughter.The girl hit did not want to tell- but eventually did.These incidents are not the fault of the school, but should not even be happening!!!

OP Resident  

Posted: June 2nd, 2011 11:15 PM

This may be the wrong forum for outsiders to chime in on what happened to this young girl and who is responsible. Let's keep our two cents in the bank and wish her well.

Elisabeth Schaffrath from Oak Park  

Posted: June 2nd, 2011 11:10 PM

Get the facts:In addition, the police officer told us that in the surveillence video our daughter is tripped twice, she tells the boy who outweighs her by 50-70 lbs to leave her alone, he then hits her in the face then snaps his finger in her face, which left a huge black and blue bruise for 10 days. She did not trip him-how is this a game? My daughter does not believe the staff has control over the bullying, harrassing etc of students at Julian. We are only trying to support our daughter.

Elisabeth Schaffrath from Oak Park  

Posted: June 2nd, 2011 11:01 PM

Get the facts:You need to know the facts before you post incorrect info. May 20 I went to Julian to attend a 6th gr class field trip. Frieds of my daughter told my husband that our daughter was tripped and then punched. That is how we found out. There were 20 parents, 40 kids and 10 staff that witnessed my husband asking the boy who was with a family member going to the field trip if he hit our daughter. Then we spoke to our daughter and she told us what happened.

Get all the facts...continued  

Posted: June 1st, 2011 7:06 PM

Most of the kids in 6th grade say that this all started with a tripping game which they insist their child is not a part of (are they there with here during the day at school). The school did what they should have, they reviewed the tape, the boy was sent home, and then a meeting was held with all parties involved and the school. Evidently there is more to this story then what is being reported. We as parents need to stress the importance of keeping our hands to ourselves to our children.

Get all the facts before we judge the school  

Posted: June 1st, 2011 6:55 PM

What this article fails to mention is that the police were "not helpful" as she put it because after they reviewed the tape it showed that the child did not actually punch Mrs. Schaffrath daughter in the face. What should have been mentioned was Mr. Schaffrath came up to the middle school on May 20th yelling and screaming at the young child that "allegedly" punched his daughter. From what I heard a meeting was held with the Schaffrath's and the young boys parents to clear up the issue.

Michael Nevins from Oak Park  

Posted: May 31st, 2011 6:56 PM

I, too, have had kids go thru the local schools recently AND was quite familiar with the "reports" regarding Julian. Actual experience? Julian was/is an urban school where my children excelled. I was opposed to the 6-8 middle schools (from 7-8) referendum, but later concluded that the 6-8 model was superior. Why? Julian became less of a way-station school and more of a genuine school. I can't say enough good things about most of the Julian staff - which includes Dave Benson and many others!

Life long Oak Parker from Oak Park  

Posted: May 31st, 2011 6:44 PM

My sons are no longer in the school system. I found the only draw back in their education was Percy Julian Middle School. The administrator and his staff were uncaring and unfriendly. It appears that nothing has changed in 20 years.


Posted: May 31st, 2011 4:25 PM

@middle, I agree, security cameras are only part of the equation. Definitely not a preventative measure, but important nonetheless. Has anyone asked the students what they think would work?

Middle Schools Students Need Appropriate Supervision and Positive Relationships with Adults   

Posted: May 31st, 2011 3:53 PM

Though security cameras (apparently)work to "catch" infractions, cameras do not (apparently) work to ensure prevention or supervision, which arguably requires committed adults and a climate that supports helpful, positive relationships between young people and adults. Some posters believe that Julian has some of the right people and programs to make this happen. Others think not. What is the next step?


Posted: May 31st, 2011 2:49 PM

@OP parent, I don't understand your comment about the security cameras not working? It was the security cameras that allowed the school to address both situations promptly, rather than it turning into a time-consuming he-said-she-said.

Kaye from Oak Park  

Posted: May 31st, 2011 1:45 PM

My kids are grown now and outside the system. My only bad memories of them growing up are related to Julian. When people are considering moving to Oak Park, I often hear people say "All the grade schools are great, and if your kids can make it through the junior highs, the high school is great too." Julian has been poorly managed for YEARS now. Someone from outside needs to do something to oversee what is truly going on inside those walls!It's well below Oak Park's high standard.

check out from Oak Park   

Posted: May 31st, 2011 1:43 PM

Zero tolerance policies operate on the assumption that the removal of students who violate school rules will create a school climate more conducive to learning for those who remain. Research data on a number of indicators of school climate, however, have shown the opposite effect - that schools with higher rates of suspension and expulsion appear to have less satisfactory ratings of school climate.

OP Parent  

Posted: May 31st, 2011 12:51 PM

Gee, from what I heard last year, the money spent on installing cameras in the school was going to solve all these problems. Is it possible that just spending more tax dollars didn't work? Is it possible that adults may have to take responsibility for their actions in how (and if) they supervise students? Maybe the solution is to increase taxes some more so we can pay these adminsitrator and teachers even higher salaries. Or we could just blame the kids.

ed from Oak Park  

Posted: May 31st, 2011 8:39 AM

Do the other boys at this school think its okay to bully girls like this? In the past, an older brother or another student would have wupped this kid for picking on a girl. Now if they did, they would probably get arrested and begin their life as a juvenile offender.

Daniel Hurtado  

Posted: May 31st, 2011 6:20 AM

You make a good point Mr. Borderman. I still am not persuaded that there is a "concentrated culture of assault" at the middle schools. My daughter attended Julian 2004-2007, and her experience was nothing of the kind. But to the extent bullying is a problem, the culture of hostility that pervades our public discourse, including the discussion on this website, surely must share some of the blame. Sometimes kids cannot so easily draw the line between verbal attacks and physical attacks.

Interested Parent  

Posted: May 30th, 2011 8:55 PM

The report of discipline incidents and consequences by middle school has been made to the Board in public session each term for the past few years.

Mary Ellen Eads from Oak Park  

Posted: May 30th, 2011 6:11 PM

Decimus-are you talking about the student respect code? I'm looking for a protocol: which school bureaucrat does what within what time frames when a student/parent complains of physical assault by another student at the school. And a summary report by school year of numbers of reports and outcomes.


Posted: May 30th, 2011 5:14 PM

@Mary Ellen Eads--try looking on the website for D97 and Julian. The policy is and has been publicly posted. Many of your questions can be answered with little effort.

Mr. Borderman from Oak Park  

Posted: May 30th, 2011 2:59 PM

I went to grade school in the 1950's, and there was certainly bullying - I remember nothing like the concentrated culture of assault that seems to dominate schools these days. Given the turn in American politics in the last 30 years, since Reagan rose to power, it's not surprising that the bully culture that now dominates the financial markets, the media and national politics would eventually permeate our schools. No worries: today's school hall bullies are tomorrow's hedge fund managers.

Mary Ellen Eads from Oak Park  

Posted: May 30th, 2011 10:06 AM

Does District 97 have a mandatory protocol which kicks in when a student/parent complains of a physical assault by another student in or near the school grounds. If so, could we see it? Was it followed in these cases? Does it need to be upgraded. Is somebody collecting data on the frequency of these incidents, by school and collectively. It seems that at least some of those posting here don't believe there was a serious response to incidents involving their kids. That's not acceptable.

Brad from Oak Park  

Posted: May 29th, 2011 10:44 PM

Elizabeth- God Bless you and your daughter. We're behind you 100%. We'll keep our eyes on this story. I saw several comments deleted earlier in the week regarding this incident, so I commend the WJ for finally publishing it. Looking forward to the outcome. I hope the admin makes the correct decision, and I hope this little punk is arrested and learns a valuable life lesson.

Dan Haley from Wednesday Journal  

Posted: May 28th, 2011 9:07 PM

We are following these comments and won't hesitate to remove comments that violate our policy. Personal attacks won't be allowed. The comment that we removed from this thread was first spotted last night. It took a bit longer to remove than usual because of the holiday weekend. This forum is intended to further discussion on important local issues. Mostly it has been well used. Let's all rise to the occasion folks. Dan Haley

OP Resident  

Posted: May 28th, 2011 5:44 PM

Frank Frank Frank Be Gone...POOF

Daniel Hurtado  

Posted: May 28th, 2011 1:29 PM

"OPRF Achievement GAP" - I am referring to the comment by "Frank Frank Frank." There is no substance to that "comment" whatsoever; only a vile, personal insult. Read the WJ's comment policy if you have not done so already. I think the policy is salutory and should be enforced. As to what I would do about the bullying incidents, based on what I know so far, I would do exactly what is being done.

OPRF Achievement GAP  

Posted: May 28th, 2011 1:03 PM

@D Hurtado stop the pity Game. No need for censure ship as there are no personal attacks - they just do not agree with YOUR opinion. You asked what OTHERS would do - and they provided their views. Now, the question is what would YOU do???

Daniel Hurtado  

Posted: May 28th, 2011 7:35 AM

Wednesday Journal, if you are reviewing these comment-threads, I respectfully suggest that you enforce your newely installed comment policy. Personal attacks that add nothing to the discussion should not be tolerated.

Daniel Hurtado  

Posted: May 28th, 2011 7:31 AM

I agree with your statement, OP Res, about getting the job done. But no one here has yet substantiated that the Julian admin is not getting the job done or is not adequately responding to bullying incidents. The two incidents under discussion here demonstrate precisely the opposite. No school admin can completely eliminate bullying incidents. But if you have specific suggestions for ameliorating the problem, please let us know.


Posted: May 28th, 2011 7:14 AM

opie, when someone first posted about this incident in the comments on this website, you said it couldn't have happened because your middle schooler "who is plugged in" hadn't heard anything about it. Now, it seems, you admit that it happened (as you must since it's on video and there is a police report), but you deny what others are saying about the school's response to such behavior. Maybe it's you who doesn't know what s/he is talking about.


Posted: May 27th, 2011 10:42 PM

@Elaine, to say "Mr. Benson will do NOTHING, basically hangs out and acts cool." means you clearly have no idea what you are talking about. He works very very hard and takes bullying very seriously.

OP Resident  

Posted: May 27th, 2011 9:24 PM

@Daniel Hurtado: People of authority to act on behalf of the well-being of the children during their school day had better figure out how to get the job done. After all, that is their job and what they are being paid to do. A failure to expediently follow through should not be tolerated in civil society - it sends the wrong message.

Elaine from Oak Park  

Posted: May 27th, 2011 8:36 PM

Oh and by the way Frank, who's the real dork who would post a comment like yours? Did you really graduate from high school, let alone middle school? Get a life dork!

Elaine from Oak Park  

Posted: May 27th, 2011 8:33 PM

You go Elisabeth! Mr. Benson will do NOTHING, basically hangs out and acts cool. He cannot be bothered to even respond to emails. Julian was the worst experience for my son, even though he said he was never bullied, it was a major waste of three years, basically a holding pen for hormones with very little leadership from the principal. Parent is involvement is very frowned upon, and it is too discouraging to even try to change the culture there.

Daniel Hurtado  

Posted: May 27th, 2011 2:04 PM

OK OP resident, precisely what action would you like us to push for?

Daniel Hurtado  

Posted: May 27th, 2011 2:02 PM

And your speculation that teachers only care when confronted by adults is just that -- speculation. It assumes that our schoolteachers and administrators are bad people. I'm certainly not willing to make that assumption without evidence.

Daniel Hurtado  

Posted: May 27th, 2011 1:59 PM

But that's not what the child said Violet. Her mother is reported to have said that the child didn't say anything (including to the parents)about the incident because she "didn't think it would do any good." Nowhere is it said that the child reported prior incidents and nothing was done. It's not clear whether prior incidents involved this child or were only observed by her. But if she had been complaining about bullying all year, one wonders why the parents didn't step forward sooner.

OP Resident  

Posted: May 27th, 2011 1:27 PM

The schools think that by having a meeting where everybody gets heard that they have appeased and can see if it will blow over. Push for action!

Violet Aura  

Posted: May 27th, 2011 1:25 PM

OR...perhaps teachers and adminstrators didn't care about it UNTIL a parent contacted them. Children are powerless on their own; if adults won't deal with it, they have no other recourse. But the powers that be know that parents can affect their livelihoods and will get their asses in gear. (By the way, I don't bash teachers administrators; I support them. But I also believe children when they say that they tried to talk about it and no one listened.)

Daniel Hurtado  

Posted: May 27th, 2011 12:09 PM

It should be borne in mind that the fact that kids THINK there will be no response if they report bullying incidents does not mean their perception is accurate. Indeed, once this incident was reported, their WAS a response. That said, if there is a perception among kids that the admin won't respond, then I agree with opie that the perception is a problem and should be addressed. But I suggest that we should try to address the problem together rather than villifying the teachers and principals.

Violet Aura  

Posted: May 27th, 2011 11:58 AM

How sad that the girl felt the need to hide bruises because she felt it was futile to go to the adults in charge. Why would adminstrators not be responsive? I used to work in a nearby suburban school and trust me--they didn't play. Very controlled middle school environment. They were very mindful of gang influence and kids could not do whatever, whenever. But what I want to know is this: when they suspend the kids, do they also demand a meeting with parents or guardians? Hold parents accountable


Posted: May 27th, 2011 11:47 AM

We experienced similar incidents at Brooks with our 6th grade son. Two meetings, then no response for a choking and a punch to the face. I wish I had filed police reports, like you did, Ms. Schaffrath! I hope your actions will put an end to the bullying for your daughter.


Posted: May 27th, 2011 7:38 AM

It seems from this story (where there were incidents the child witnessed and experienced, but didn't tell) that a big part of the issue is getting the kids to know they will be listened to. So many times, I think, kids don't report incidents for what they believe are very good reasons, chief among them that they won't be heard and it will make things worse, or that they will get in trouble. But you need to tell, if not for you then for the next kid. These things build on themselves.


Posted: May 27th, 2011 7:33 AM

The assistant principals are definitely the ones you talk to when there are problems. They seem to be charged with addressing discipline issues. It would be nice if parents knew that--I don't think that is adequately communicated to parents.

Daniel Hurtado  

Posted: May 27th, 2011 7:16 AM

@cal - "How can administrators think this is acceptable and take this so lightly?" The boy was sent home for the day, and now is the subject of a police investigation. The principal, a social worker and a police officer were gathered to hear the girl's story. How does that imply taking the incident "lightly" or a belief that the alleged conduct was acceptable?

Dori B. from Oak Park  

Posted: May 27th, 2011 2:38 AM

I am glad someone is speaking out about the bully problem at Julian. My son had very serious problem with a bully when he was there. Dr. Sharts wouldn't help at all until I went to the superintendent. Julian needs a principal that cares about kids.


Posted: May 26th, 2011 10:52 PM

I agree, Mr. G really does understand kids and works so well in shutting down the bullying. He's great.

Lisa B. from Oak Park  

Posted: May 26th, 2011 9:25 PM

I'm sorry you had this experience. When my kids (now in 10th and 7th grade) were bullied at Julian, I think the assistant principal took it very seriously. Mr. Geritano really understands how uncomfortable kids are about telling on a peer, and makes it as easy as possible for them. And the bullies faced consequences.

Elisabeth Schaffrath from Oak Park  

Posted: May 26th, 2011 8:50 PM

Just to clarify again- my daughter is a 12 year old in 6th grade, and the boy who hit her is also in 6th grade. My daughter still has a very large bruise on her face that is now 1 week old but still visible. All we want is to ensure that safety for our daughter is a number one priority while she is at school. Our daughter does not believe that it is and has told us that most incidents go unreported in fear of more bullying and no or little punishment for the bully.

cal from OP  

Posted: May 26th, 2011 8:01 PM

Good job being a strong advocate for your daughter, Elisabeth. As if it's ok that a student got hurt because it was just a "game". How can administrators think this is acceptable and take this so lightly?

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