The mother of a 9-year-old boy says the Visalia Unified School District (VUSD) isn’t doing enough to protect her son after he was attacked by bullies.
Kelly Aguirre, whose son is a third-grader at Cottonwood Creek Elementary, says the boy was attacked by three other students while at recess on September 19, and the response from leadership at the District has been condescending and dismissive.
Tied to a Tree
The attack happened on the first day students at Cottonwood were allowed to play with jump ropes when three male students singled out Aguirre’s son as a target.
“They grabbed him and decided they were going to tie him to the tree,” she said. “He’s a pretty strong kid, so he got his hand between the rope and pulled it. He was able to get loose.”
Aguirre says she met with Cottonwood principal Sonja Joyner and an officer of the Visalia Police Department the next day. The incident was investigated, and the boys who attacked her son were disciplined appropriately.
“The principal at Cottonwood is great. She handled it quickly,” Aguirre said. “We aren’t allowed to know what the punishment is.”
However, the damage was already done. Aguirre says her son was traumatized by the attack, returning from school with a “shocked look on his face” and a fear of returning to class.
“To see him now not wanting to go to school and that sparkle of wanting to be engaged is gone,” she said. “He’s scared to go there.”
Hoping to remove her son from a place he no longer felt safe, Aguirre decided to take the matter up with the VUSD’s interim superintendent, Dr. Tamara Ravalin, but says she was ignored.
“I went to one of her Kudos and Concerns events and was told it was not the right forum,” Aguirre said. “I was basically asked to leave. After that they moved across the restaurant.”
Aguirre then decided to take her complaint to the VUSD Board of Education during its meeting on September 24, and she came with a solution in hand.
Two of Aguirre’s three children began attending Cottonwood Creek after the family moved recently across town. Previously, her son and a younger sibling attended Linwood Elementary, and Aguirre had already put in a request that would allow her children to return to that school.
“I went before them and I got my three minutes,” she said. “I gave them a handout about my requests.”
After learning of the incident, Aguirre hoped the school board would approve the transfer, ending her son’s fear of returning to Cottonwood. She called Ravalin the next day, but was met with disappointment.
“I asked ‘Are we going to talk about this?’” she said. “I got nothing.”
That’s when Aguirre turned to social media, posting requests asking others to call the VUSD and demand action from Ravalin and the board of education.
Board President Responds
The VUSD was “bombarded” with calls, Aguirre says, and she was finally able to talk over the matter with Board President John Crabtree. His response was not what Aguirre expected.
“He asked me to ask people to stop calling,” she said, “He told me, ‘Honey, kids are resilient. Just move on. The kids will be fine.’”
Aguirre was angered by Crabtree’s attitude regarding her son and her complaints.
“I think he was very chauvinistic, very passive to any concerns I had as a parent,” she said. “He didn’t even ask what school it was. I felt like he was annoyed he had to call. It was made very clear to me by him having parents call about this issue was a distraction, not a concern–a distraction.”
Crabtree, however, says the district has made eliminating bullying a priority, and he feels the issue has been handled appropriately at the school level.
“We don’t try to make light of what happened, because it’s just as serious to the district as it is to the mother,” he said. “They’re very protective of the kids, of all of our kids.”
Crabtree says he sympathizes with Aguirre, but she hasn’t taken the choices the VUSD has offered.
“I feel sorry for her,” he said. “She wants her child out of that school. There are options she ignored.”
Due to privacy concerns, Crabtree said he could not be specific about the district’s response to Aguirre, but solutions were offered.
“She came in to make her case. She’s aware (a transfer is) against district policy,” he said. “We want our parents happy, but we have to work within the rules. She still has the options that were offered open to her.”
And, he says, the board’s hands are tied.
“I wish there was more we could do to satisfy her,” Crabtree said. “We have mandates to keep classes to a certain size wherever possible. The rules are written to help us accomplish that.”
While the district is very concerned about bullying, Crabtree says behavior like this is practically unavoidable when dealing with young children.
“These are grade school kids,” he said. “They do stupid things sometimes.”
Crabtree also says it appears Aguirre’s son is safe at Cottonwood Creek Elementary.
“She (Aguirre) hasn’t brought forward anything more about him being bullied, at least as far as I know,” he said.
His confidence in the administration at Cottonwood is high, Crabtree says, and he believes they have adequately addressed the situation.
“Kids are so jealous of one another in school. The site has been watching the boy very closely, and the alleged bullies,” he said. “If they felt there was a problem they’d address it.”
While the victim’s feelings are appropriate, Crabtree says the child must learn to live with them.
“I don’t know if you could say it’s part of growing up,” he said. “We deal with people, everyday, with people we’d rather not deal with.”
The VUSD administrators, according to Crabtree, have done what they can and have no plans to reconsider their stance.
“You do the best for everyone and you move on,” he said.
Grand Jury Review
Aguirre isn’t ready to drop the matter; instead, she’s decided to seek a remedy outside the VUSD’s procedures.
“I reached out to the Tulare County Grand Jury,” she said. “I got a response from them today; it’s being reviewed.”
She’s also been contacted by a Fresno-based attorney who has offered to take Aguirre’s case to court if necessary.
“I don’t want money,” Aguirre said. “I want them to listen to my concerns.”
When she spoke at the VUSD board meeting on September 24, Aguirre says she felt the board members were unimpressed by the report of violence on one of their campuses.
“The look on their faces, just no care for the children, no concern, nothing,” she said.
Crabtree says that isn’t true.
“Kids are our business, and parents are part of that business,” he said. “We want happy parents. Happy parents mean happy kids, and happy kids are ready to learn.”
One Last Stand
Given the lack of action on the part of the VUSD Board of Education, Aguirre says her family is facing a difficult choice. The decision is made more troublesome by a loss of confidence in the district’s ability to protect her children.
“I want to pull my kids out of Visalia schools so they don’t get the money anymore,” she said. “It’s hard because I don’t want my kids to miss out on things.”
Instead, Aguirre is going to make a final attempt to get satisfaction from the board of education and make sure it understands her son’s case is not an isolated one. She plans to lead a parent “walk-in” at the board of education’s next meeting.
“We’re going to stand up and make them listen to us,” she said. “They need to hear how many parents in the district are facing the same thing I am.”
The board’s next meeting is scheduled for 7pm on October 15. The meeting will be held in the VUSD’s offices at 5000 W. Cypress Avenue.
16 thoughts on “Mother Says VUSD Ignoring Bullying”
(Commenter ID is a unique per-article, per-person commenter identifier. If multiple names have the same Commenter ID, it is likely they are the same person. For more information, click here.)
I was bullied in 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade. It affected everything, my grades, my self confidence and worth. I understand your frustration. Being told to just move on doesnt help at all. Im 50 and proof that it doesnt work because we are all so different. Someone else might have brushed it off and others might not be able to so easily. I dont know what the answer is. Maybe the bullies need to have stronger consequences for their involvement. And maybe the victims need to be taught emotional skills to deal with the bullies, while the bullies could learn about why it feels good to them to put someone down. Sorry for the grammar errors. I hope there is a satisfactory outcome. God bless!
Thank you for your kind words.
I do hope the President of the VUSD Crabtree wakes up to what is happening now!
In case anyone is interested in what the options where.
Options only got offered because I emailed asking for them.
I was surprised that was came back was to separate 2 brothers into schools across town.
It was for me to decide which one would get picked up on time and which child would have to wait.
We are behind you 100% Mama, from what Crabtree said it’s clear he’s trying to paint you as a nagging mother. I’m concerned that many parents may have been met this way when dealing with problems. I just cannot understand why he worded his responses in that way. Also taking care of children and making sure they’re safe also leads to happy kids who are excited to learn.
We’re behind you 100%. My youngest son was being bullied by a kid in his class for the past four years at four creeks elementary, until my son and I got tired of it being reported and nothing done. Now, when my son sees someone being bullied, he steps in and solves it. If someone starts to bully him, he waits for the first punch, and then he does what I have taught him to do,; light ’em up!! And if he gets in trouble for it I go above and beyond all of the districts cronies, I go to the courts. The school district don’t give a squat about our kids, why? Because every empty seat, every day they lose money. If your kid is sick so many days, even though they are seen by a doctor, and provide a doctor’s note, and are excused, you still get a sarb letter, wich is just another way of saying, your child has been absent so many days and we lost out on all that money! Way to go vusd, now deal with it and suck it up buttercup!!
This is ridiculous, they know plenty about reducing bullying, there are plenty of training and programs out there for the schools that want to designate themselves a bully-free zone.
When it comes to school discipline and school management, VUSD is a hot mess.
CRABTREE…..sounds like he really lives up to his name! Crabtree apparently doesn’t have too much concern about the emotional toll these school yard bullies can inflict on others kids. Doesn’t sound like he’s a good fit for school board.
So I got a letter with a bunch of inaccuracies and the school board has put in place a rule that I can’t talk to them. If I need something I have to send us mail to untitled VUSD employee. I think they are now violating my civil rights.
I think you are possibly being bullied by the VUSD School Board. Perhaps that Fresno attorney will take your case pro bono. Good luck. Just a thought…. If you child isn’t being supported in his current school by his teacher and Principal and his peers then perhaps you should consider home schooling him for at least the rest of this school year. I was told that the district has online classes available for homeschooling.
Your local government at work! If you have been offered legal help, I urge you to accept it and to get all the money you can, as this will be the only way to make your point!
I have found local government to be almost entirely unresponsive unless they are pressed to the wall.
Yes. I just received paperwork stating I can’t contact the district due to a new procedure put in place for me!!!! I think my civil rights for being violated.
Tulare County seems to believe that civil rights legislation does not apply to it. As I have stated, we tax payers are viewed as an impediment! I have absolutely, positively no confidence in anyone in local government! None!
So because you are unhappy with the school and you didn’t get what you wanted you’re going to throw a fit until the district gives you your way. Call a lawyer and what hope they can change a board policy to give you special treatment. What is wrong with the other options they provided to you?
I don’t want special treatment but I would like my so to feel safe.
If you want to help drop off and pick up 2 kids and different schools that get out at different times. Let me know! That is the option I was given.
Do you know what the options were? An inter-district would be quite reasonable I think. If this goes to court, the fact that her proposed solution was refused will work against the district, I think.