NAACP panel discusses bullying in schools

Wearing navy blue and hot pink Reeboks, 8-year-old Shaniya Boyd and her mother Geneva Biggus stood before members of the Baltimore City Branch of the NAACP and panel members gathered to discuss bullying Tuesday.

"I'm here to make sure we keep going forward," Biggus said after she recounted the struggles of her daughter, who faced persistent bullying at Gilmor Elementary to the point that her mother said she attempted to kill herself.

The discussion organized by NAACP included state and city education officials and was held at the Union Baptist Church in North Baltimore during Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week, which runs through May 28.

Maryland first lady Katie O'Malley and state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick designated the week in light of a series of high-profile bullying cases in the state and nation.

"Doing nothing is not the option," said Dr. Josephine Ball-Sevils, an executive committee NAACP committee member. She said ignoring the issue causes the violence to escalate when the children reach adulthood.

Tuesday's meeting included representatives from the Maryland State Department of Education, Mariposa Child Success Program, Maryland Community Crime Prevention Institute, the Baltimore Teacher's Union, and the Baltimore City Public School System.

Jonathan Brice, executive director of student support for city schools, spoke first, saying bullying is a pervasive across the country and that the school system reported 1,500 suspensions for bullying last year, the second-highest number reported by a district in the state.

In a city with one of the highest homicide rates in the nation, Brice said "the culture of this city must change … We must teach our young people to get along."

Marietta English, president of the Baltimore Teachers Union, said the issue lies with adult bullying, saying that "if the children see us arguing … they carry that same behavior to people they don't like."

After the panelists spoke, several parents said the school systems and the department of education were not doing enough. Multiple parents brought pictures of their children, with visible wounds, saying that their schools failed to react.

Brice responded by saying the schools are not perfect. "But I think city schools are safer…We serve my baby, who is 10, [and] who is doing fine," he said. "We also serve people who aren't doing so well."

He added that "young people go into a community that is rife with violence," and that "we are working hard to take care of the children of Baltimore City."

The NAACP panel was held the same week as a Baltimore County student's mother seeks up to $600,000 in damages from the school system, alleging that her 13-year-old daughter was the victim of repeated bullying that led to an injury and emotional anguish.

In a lawsuit filed May 7, Michele Benbow of Reisterstown said her daughter refused to return to her seventh-grade class at Franklin Middle School earlier this month after being physically, verbally and electronically harassed by other seventh-graders. She has been home-schooled since, according to Benbow's attorney, Donna King.

The suit alleges negligence and failure to maintain a safe educational environment on the part of Franklin Middle school principal Lynn Wolf and Bryan Thanner, a school administrator. The lawsuit also names the Baltimore County Board of Education as a defendant.

The school system declined to comment on the case because it is in litigation.