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Mom points camera at bullied 9-year-old daughter, asks ‘Tell me how it makes you feel’ (VIDEO)

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(CNN) — Sarah Cymbaluk of Fosston, Minnesota, is a frustrated mom who took matters into her own hands. After claiming that her daughter was repeatedly bullied on the school bus and the school did nothing about it, she posted a video on Facebook.

In the video, Cymbaluk asked her crying daughter, “Tell me how it makes you feel.”

Her daughter, who turned 9 on Tuesday, responded, “It makes me feel sad and scared, and I don’t like it.”

“She’s been called into the principal’s (office) and made to feel like it’s her fault,” Cymbaluk told CNN affiliate KXJB, claiming the bullying has gone on since December. “She’s been told to ignore it. She’s been told to disregard it. Basically she’s been told to stuff her emotions and get on with life.”

Fosston Schools Superintendent Mark Nohner, who said he thinks the situation could have been resolved without going to Facebook, said he learned about this issue only recently but conceded “somewhere along the line” the case “fell through the cracks.”

“And so we need to review our procedures and policies and maybe do a better job of articulating to the parents what we’re doing,” said Nohner.

While Cymbaluk has come under some fire for posting the video of her tearful daughter, this case demonstrates how angry and helpless parents can feel when they believe their child is being bullied and that nothing is being done to stop it.

‘You want to do something to help your child’

Becki Cohn-Vargas, a parent of three grown children, is a former principal, superintendent and teacher with more than two decades of experience in education. She is now director of Not in Our School, a program that works to create networks of schools that are free of bullying and offers a guide to parents on how to deal with bullying behavior.

“Without knowing all the details of the case, what I can say is that I can understand a parent’s frustration because I, as a parent, have moved my child from a school … so I know that you feel desperate,” said Cohn-Vargas, who transferred her own daughter to another high school years ago because of a bullying incident. “You want to do something to help your child.”

The key is focusing on the most effective methods to make sure your child feels safe. That begins with talking with your child and determining whether they have, in fact, been bullied, she says.

“It isn’t supportive to your child to just jump in and defend when you don’t know exactly what happened,” said Cohn-Vargas, co-author of the book “Identity Safe Classrooms: Places to Belong and Learn,” who says she’s had her share of experiences as a principal with parents coming in with “guns blazing.”

“I had so many cases where parents … felt like they had to defend their child because they thought that was support.”

Parents might first encourage children to try and handle the situation by standing up for themselves and telling the bully to stop. If that doesn’t work, the next stage would be working up through the chain of command, said Cohn-Vargas, beginning with the person closest to where the alleged bullying took place, such as a teacher if it took place in the classroom or a bus driver if the incident happened on a bus and then moving on to the principal and the school district.

“I am not trying to underestimate that it’s hard because school districts sometimes put their head in the sand, they don’t want to see what’s happening, but I think more and more school districts are very pro-active,” said Cohn-Vargas.

‘Document, document, document’

Nancy Willard, director of the group Embrace Civility in the Digital Age, which works on combating cyberbullying and author of “Positive Relations @ School (& Elsewhere),” doesn’t totally agree.

She says she hears from far too many parents who say schools are rationalizing bullying behavior, saying things like “It wasn’t that big of a deal” or “You’re overreacting” or “Your kid needs to learn how to deal with it.”

Willard, who has created her own empowerment guide for parents, says her first advice is to “document, document, document.”

Parents should chronicle what happens, what staff were around and what they did, what the impact has been in terms of emotional distress, how the alleged bullying behavior may be interfering with the child’s education and after-school activities and what the school response has been, said Willard.

If the school is not responding, a parent can go the person charged with responsibility for ensuring safe schools at the district level, she said. “If you don’t get help at the district level, then you go to the State Department of Education.”

If a child is being bullied and there is a civil rights violation, a parent can file a civil rights complaint either at the state or federal level, she added.

“Parents need to know that they have more power,” said Willard.

A focus on reconciliation, not punishment

She said parents should not be focused on punishment, which could lead to retaliation and more pain for the bullied child. Instead, they should ask the school to see that the person responsible for the hurtful behavior gets help since other problems may be pushing them to bully and work with the school to create an opportunity, at some point, for the child who caused the pain to make amends.

Cohn-Vargas adds that parents should refrain from immediately trying to schedule a meeting with the parents of the child doing the bullying.

“It’s because it can turn into conflict between adults,” she said. “It just can get ugly really fast.”

Willard said part of the reason why she created her parent guide in the first place is because she believes parents can help schools make positive change.

“If we’ve got 1.4 million kids who are experiencing hurtful acts at school each week, that’s a fair number of parents who if they got motivated could encourage and empower change,” she said, citing numbers from a 2011 Youth Voice project on bullying.

Cohn-Vargas believes schools and school districts are “in the beginning stages of addressing bullying effectively.” She believes only a multifaceted approach will succeed — one that includes empowering students to identify issues and solutions, teaching bystanders to stand up against bullying and looking at bullying as a learning experience where kids can move on and change.

She cited a recent case involving a middle school, which worked with her program, Not in Our School. Three boys photoshopped a picture of an eighth- grade girl, adding a swastika, a naked image and an anti-gay slur, and circulated the photo.

School officials identified three students were responsible, including one Jewish student, and wanted the children to really learn from the incident. They came up with the idea of having the students do research on the topics involved including the history of the swastika, said Cohn-Vargas.

“So what does the school do to handle it right? They take it seriously, they investigate. They look at it as a learning experience,” she said.

“All children at some point end up being either a victim, a bystander or someone who does the bullying and so it’s a matter of creating a learning opportunity for the kids.”

Do you think schools are doing enough to stop bullying? Chime in in the comments below or tell Kelly Wallace on Twitter and CNN Living on Facebook.

TM & © 2014 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

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22 comments

  • VooDoo

    Kids need to be taught how to take the bullying and ignore or push back. Complaining to the school is the wrong course of action. BE A PARENT and talk to the other child's parents. Talk to your own kid about how to stand up for themselves, why bullys do what they do, and use as a tool to make your kid smarter and tougher – not a dependent weakling.

    We are truly becoming a nation of the weak and dependent.

    • wildflower

      I completely agree with you VooDoo. Kids simply have no skills to deal with bullies because adults always try to step in to "take care of it." Parents are creating completely helpless victims who will have no problem solving skills as adults. I deal with this every single day in my classroom. I am a teacher, not a magician, and I can only do so much, but I can't control a bully. I can control the circumstances as best I can, but I can't make another person be a certain way. I can give detentions until I am blue in the face and talk with the bully's parents every day, but until the victim's parents teach the victim to stop playing the part of the victim, they will continue to be pushed around for the rest of their lives.

      • samwolf78

        You are the same worthless kind of teacher I had growing up. Bullying would not be a part of a child’s life if people like you would do something about it. We tell children all there lives to look to adults for help. You are why they are victimized. You should not be teaching. If I could campaign to have you fired I would.

      • Theresa

        You should be fired. I'm so sick of all these worthless, heartless teachers. I am a teacher and I find the attitude of some of my colleagues absolutely repulsing. The reality is, bullying not only harmful for the person being bullied, but there is often something wrong in the bully's life as well to make them treat others that way. Are there some children that play the victim every time someone looks at them the wrong way? Yes, absolutely, children will act out to get attention at times. However, to discredit all bullying by telling the victim to deal with it and toughen up is just disgraceful.

      • Sam123

        That is the response of a typical lazy teacher, you make me sick. I don't understand how when there are so few teaching positions available (in Canada anyway) people like you get hired. No wonder so many schools are getting shot up, teachers like you don't care enough to spot a problem before it gets out of hand.

    • samwolf78

      Your part of the problem. If some parent came to you and said your child is bullying my child. Would you just say good it will toughen them up? Would you not confront your child about there behavior?

  • Alice

    VooDoo, you wrote: "Kids need to be taught how to take the bullying and ignore or push back."

    Good grief! I take it you work for the public school system because this is exactly their attitude. Ignore, wolf pack mentality and allow bullies to grow up and be bigger bullies that many times end up in jail because no one stopped them when they were little bullies.

    When you feed an alligator, it only gets bigger. Your attitude is feeding the alligators.

    Your response exemplifies a cowardly response in not wanting to deal with a problem or confront it.

    Here's a reality check, in the past I've worked in the school system for over a decade. Many of these bullies pick on those much younger than themselves where the younger one doesn't stand a chance at defending themselves or ignoring what's happening to them. Like a 16 year old all out punching a 10 year old small skinny kid in the stomach, repeatedly. Or, big bullies (14-18 age range) picking on 1st or 2nd graders by coughing up plegm and spitting on them. I've seen that and much worse over the years. Typical school administration attitude is to see no evil, hear no evil, and don't make a record of any evil. Frankly, in today's public school system it's comparable to sending your child into the lion's den and hoping for the best.

  • Stephanie

    My sons (has Aspergers) been going through bullying since last year. His 6th grade yr (he was bullied and ignored by school staff and he wasn’t sure how to handle ot and attempted to take his life at school- schools answer was to make him miss 3 and half mo. Of school and have a tutor come twice a week.yet, the bully remained attending school .. The schools way of in house handling)

    This year not only is he still being bullied, his items are being stolen from him by other students, the worst is when we found out a kid (8th grader) used a sling shot on my son and the school only talked to this kid whom just earlier this week the same kid hit my son. While another student stole his skate board.

    My son came home and told me what happened and told me he never wants to go to school. I tried to press charges against this child for harassment, bullying and assault and I was told by a nonemergcy call center worker that our local PD is not here to handle juvinal situations that’s the school’s problem not ours. When I was informed by the principle that where this happened at school isn’t technically school ground and that it was public property and he couldn’t suspended the bully or the kids parents would Sue him. I am in a rock and hard place at feeling the situation was handled properly. One frustrated Washington State parent!!!

  • anonymous

    The schools need to take a proactive approach to dealing with bullying. Stephanie, I believe it is a federal ruling that a school is responsible for the safety of all of the children until those children reach home. In other words, if the incident happened during school hours or immediately after school while walking home, the district is responsible for ensuring a response/investigation. My personal opinion is that administrator lied to you. I know this due to the fact that when I was in high school I was bullied by a couple of kids who lived in my neighborhood. As far as the stolen property and the slingshot incident go, the stolen skateboard should probably be written off, pick and choose your battles. This sounds like the person at the center of the bullies is possibly one of the “in” crowd or is somehow “valuable” to the school and the district. Document everything, when you call, who you speak with regarding what issues and what they say, and what they really do. I am sorry you have to go through this.

  • The World is Ending

    I had a few bullies in elementary school, until I finally got tired of it and popped a few of them back, and ended up standing toe to toe with one of them, after that I never had a problem again.. Oh ant the one I stood toe to toe with we ended up good friends. This may not work in all situations, but it worked for me, because bullies are cowards and will only pick on those that they see as weaker than them.

  • Brenda

    Wow. I can't believe what I'm reading. We are in a society where bullies have even more tools, parents are no longer able to be at home with their kids, etc. This isn't the same as when we were kids. And really, could the quality of our childhood have been better without bullies? I was horribly bullied. It effected my learning, my self esteem, I was afraid to walk home because the group of older bullies were waiting for me. I was a weaker kid, sure. I didn't WANT to fight. Why can't we address the parents ofthe bullies. Maybe THEY should be talking to THEIR kids. They're all just kids, we are the grownups. If we teach them to accept bullying as a way of life, we set the stage for other hostile acceptance as well and I hope that that is not the type of society we hope to raise.

  • WAFI

    To those saying bullied kids are weak – I pity you and your children, and I hope that your children experience much adversity in life, since it will make them strong, right?

  • CONCERNED MOTHER

    HONESTLY, IF THE MOTHER HAS TRIED MULTIPLE WAYS OF TRYING TO GET THE SCHOOL TO STEP IN, THEN ABSOLUTELY PUT IT ON FACEBOOK! SOCIAL MEDIA TENDS TO BE THE QUICKEST WAY OF GETTING ATTENTION OF THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE. SO FOR THAT MOTHER TO BE PUNISHED FOR FEELING LIKE SHE HAS NO HELP OR SUPPORT IS ABSOLUTELY WRONG ON THE BEHALF OF THE SCHOOL, NEWS OR ANY OTHER PERSONS INTERFERING.

  • Kim

    Maybe the people handling these bullies and letting it happen, need to be bullied by parents at 4o clock in the parking lot. Eye for an eye. Green a block party at school against bullying. Pickett the school for not protecting the children against this b.s.

  • Autumn Simpson

    My 9 yr old daughter was bullied… courdua elementary marysville ca.. the school did nothing at all.. when I was upset the girls held my daughters hands down andscratched her face, the principle ask me if I was on my period…. im so sick of ppl at the school’s turning their head’s…

  • Kathy

    My question has always been, where are the bully's parents?!! They should be held accountable for their child's behavior.

  • Eowyn Fair

    I was bullied as a child in middle school, and a little in high school. It wasn't usually the kind of physical bullying that people report (though once I did get slapped in the face by some random girl I barely knew), it was psychological bullying. I was questioned as to why I didn't have a boyfriend, why I didn't shave my legs (in 7th grade), why I chose not to watch certain movies (or was not allowed to watch them). I had teachers join in on the harassment when I told him I wasn't allowed to watch an R-rated movie (he showed Amistad in class). I had students call my name in a high voice behind me, and of course no one actually was there trying to get my attention when I turned around, though I knew who it was. (They also did this in Target one day after we had graduated.) I also received fake love notes telling me how wonderful some anonymous person thought I was amazing. My poor little heart knew it was fake, but also longed to have someone care about me that way.

    All that being said… my parents did not teach me how to deal with the emotional trauma of these actions. They taught me sarcastic things to say, told the principal, tried to help me ignore it, but those things only made it worse. Another teacher played a rated-R movie in class and my parents called her about it. She told me that she almost lost her job over it, harassing me and blaming me, and to this day that teacher will not talk to me (I am in the same teaching subject as she).

    There are many ways to attempt to deal with bullies. Some of the bullies of my life have apologized, some of them have not. I don't think they thought they were bullies really, just felt I deserved it because I was an awkward kid.

  • Stacie

    A large majority of schools do not take it seriously. I had a teacher bully my daughter in front of the entire class. It mortified her. I addressed it with the principal and found out later another student told her Mother and that parent called too. The only thing that was done is they called my daughter in the office and asked her how she felt. So as I walk through the halls of her school under all the stop bullying caution tape adorning all the doorways throught the school I can feel the hypocriscy.

  • samwolf78

    I was bullied relentlessly from 7th through 11th grade. It has had a significant effect on my life. I wish my parents knew then what so many know now and maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad. I also wish more teachers and faculty had given a fuck. In those 4 years of he’ll I only remember one teacher and two faculty members (my guidance counselors) who did anything to help me.

  • Christina

    Wildflower writes ” Until the victim’s parents teach the victim to stop playing the part of the victim..”

    Please give specific examples of how a parent can do this and include examples for different ages. I am very interested in hearing your non violent ideas being we know where “violent” retaliation gets the victim in the public school system.

    I agree with others that you are lazy and I don’t think you deserve to be in the positionyou are in. I wouldn’t doubt that you join in with the bullying of students.

    Please get back to me with your suggestions on how a parent can help their child deal with a bully.


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