A Gainesville Middle School student’s mother became “a sacrifice” in order to spur the community’s passion to combat bullying and address issues in the school system, Apostle Roderick Hughey said Monday night at a community meeting.
Dozens of people gathered at the Fair Street Neighborhood Center for a panel discussion hosted by “Parents Rebuilding the Village.” The group formed after the arrest two weeks ago of Cirea Oliver, who was charged with terroristic threats following a video posted on Facebook.
In the video, posted around 12:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 16, the woman discusses her child being bullied and feeling that not enough is being done by the faculty to address the issue.
“Sadly, it took her getting ugly in order to get our attention as a whole. Did I say it was right the way she — well I don’t know how you would handle it if you lose it. Before you judge, be real with yourself. We’ve all lost it at some point,” Hughey said.
The panel included Gainesville City Schools Superintendent Jeremy Williams, leaders in the faith community, “Parents Rebuilding the Village” members and Georgia Legal Services Program staff attorney Alina Venick.
Gainesville Police Cpl. Jessica Van said comments in the video were “insinuating that she was going to shoot multiple people at the school.” In the video, which was obtained by The Times, Oliver discusses showing up to the school at the end of the school day to pick up her child.
She explains that she has voiced her concerns to teachers and the principal “numerous times.”
“I’m going to go up to the school and talk to them again, and I’m going to talk to the Board of Education and talk to whoever I need to up there because something has to be done,” Oliver said in the video. “It’s breaking my heart because it’s like nothing I can do.”
Oliver, who is a single parent, said in the video that she works hard to give her child a strong support system. She said the consistent bullying falls back on the school and other people’s parenting.
“It feels like his world is crashing, and he feels inadequate and he feels like he’s nothing,” Oliver said in the video. “It defeats the purpose because I instill at home that he is somebody. That I love him. That he’s smart and intelligent.”
Williams kicked off the presentation following a prayer and a couple of questions from the community, expounding on the four Rs in the school system: ready, respectful, responsible, role model.
“When you look at those four things, that’s the proactive approach that we take. These are the conversations that are happening in the classroom. These are the conversations that are happening with the counselors on the front end to try and be proactive about things,” Williams said.
Williams said there is a three-strikes policy relating to bullying before a student is moved to an alternative school, though an offense considered especially severe may lead to this punishment before a third strike.
“When you start to look at what a classroom looks like now compared to what a classroom looked like when most of us went to school, it’s very different. The demands on the teacher today are much more, I would argue, than it has ever been in public school history,” Williams said.
Venick discussed the rights that parents should know if their children ever find themselves in trouble.
If pulled into an administrative office, the student has the right to remain silent until a parent arrives, Venick said, and if the child says anything or writes a statement for an administrator, then it could be used in a potential tribunal.
Georgia Legal Services Program can represent students in discipline cases.
“It is important that we (are) keeping our kids in school. Once they start getting out of school, it’s the school-to-prison pipeline. They get out of school, and it just becomes harder and harder on them. This is more likely to affect students of color and students with special needs,” Venick said.
The rallying cry of the “Parents Rebuilding the Village” has been, “I am one brick and I will help to rebuild this village.”
St. John Baptist Church pastor Stephen P. Samuel asked: “What tore the village down?”
Samuel said we live in communities now where we don’t know our neighbors nor the other students our children interact with at school.
“Every one of those children, we have to see them as a part of our family, our village. That has to be a value that is instilled in us. I’ll say this, and I’m unashamed to say this: Character is not built at school. My child’s teacher is not the first person responsible for building character in my child,” Samuel said.
In “rebuilding the village,” Samuel said a community can set forth values as parents and a “platform where we then are proclaiming and lifting up and teaching what those values truly are.”
That could be seen in parents mentoring parents or a venue for intervention.
Kelly Williams of “Parents Rebuilding the Village” posited a theory that performance in the schools may lead to bullying by pointing to the College and Career Ready Performance Index,
The CCRPI scores are calculated on a 100-point scale and based on five main components — content mastery, progress, closing gaps, readiness and, for high schools, graduation rate.
The CCRPI score for Gainesville Middle School was 61.7.
Gainesville’s overall CCRPI score came out at 69.2, increasing 7.7 points from last year. The elementary schools received a 70.4, middle school got a 61.7 and high school earned a 73.2.
“It is my theory that with the widespread failure comes embarrassment as well as frustration,” Williams said.
In offering solutions, Imam Bilal Ali of the Gainesville Islamic Cultural Center advocated that members of the community come to serve as mentors with some of the school’s “most troubled youth.”