By Megan Dooley
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.