The mother of a CY Middle School student who was bullied last month on a school bus and later sustained a concussion is imploring the Casper City Council to take action against bullying.
At the Council’s Tuesday meeting, Amber O’Donnell — who was wearing a bright orange T-shirt with the words “Stop Enabling Bullies” emblazoned on the back — said that the school’s leaders and resource officers mishandled the Oct. 2 incident.
Explaining that she struggled to obtain information from the school, O’Donnell said those who handle bullying need more training about how to treat victims and their families. The mother also said it is unfair that bullied students are punished for defending themselves.
“We are challenging you City Council members to go forth with integrity and be the change,” said O’Donnell, who then presented an anti-bullying petition that she said was signed by more than 100 community members.
Mayor Ray Pacheco said he could not comment specifically on the incident involving O’Donnell’s daughter. But he thanked the mother for speaking out and said the Council agreed that bullying is a serious concern.
“We find bullying to be abhorrent,” Pacheco said.
Councilman Mike Huber said he meant no disrespect, but that he was unsure how O’Donnell expected the council members to help. The Natrona County School District runs the schools, not the Council, he said.
But O’Donnell argued that the city’s leaders do have a role to play. School resource officers investigate bullying, and they are members of the police force, which is run by the city, she said.
Everyone in the community needs to work together to take a stand against bullying, O’Donnell added.
Councilman Dallas Laird agreed and said that he would like to see strict laws implemented against bullying at the local and state levels. Laird recently proposed an anti-bullying resolution, which the Council approved.
Caitlin Jonckers, O’Donnell’s daughter, previously told the Star-Tribune that she was harassed on the bus ride by three students. After departing the bus, she said she approached them to defend herself.
“I went up to them to tell them, ‘This is not OK. Leave me alone. This is very immature, and I would be reporting it,’” she said. “And, um, this older girl, they started taunting, and one of them was getting in my space. ... And the older girl punched me in my head.”
The district has declined to say which student threw the first punch; officials have said that detail doesn’t matter, only that both students were involved.
The district punished two girls for the bullying that occurred on the bus and suspended Jonkers and another student for the fight that happened off the bus that resulted in the Jonkers’ injuries.
Jonkers, who was taken to the emergency room and treated for a concussion, is still out on medical leave. The district previously said it has not heard of any injuries sustained by the other students involved in the bullying and fighting incident.
Bullying is not uncommon in the United States. The National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 28 percent of U.S. students in grades 6 to 12 have experienced bullying.
Some younger victims are reluctant to ask for help, according to stopbullying.gov, a federal website managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The website lists warning signs that parents or chaperones can watch for, including: unexplained injuries, declining grades, lost or damaged clothing or jewelry, nightmares or difficultly sleeping, faking illnesses to skip school or other social activities, changes in eating habits, decreased self-esteem and self-destructive behaviors, such as self-harming or running away from home.
Staff writer Seth Klamann contributed to this report.