Polk County School Board vows to address Medulla bullying concerns

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Scratched, shoved and bruised; a group of Polk County parents say they're fed up with bullying at Medulla Elementary School. They took their concerns to the school board Tuesday night, begging for action and accountability.

Some parents were tearful, others were angry as they shared stories of bullying at Medulla Elementary. Their goals are to spread awareness that bullying is alive and well among the district's youngest students, and ask for stricter policies for handling reports of bullying.

"Our children are ending up with bruises. They've been punched, punched in the stomach, they've been jumped, they've been cut with scissors," said Tracey Dannemiller, whose granddaughter attends Medulla. "They've been given death notes, they've been hit forcefully in the neck and it goes on and on and on."

Dannemiller's granddaughter, Gabreilla, a 2nd-grader, came home from school with a large red bruise on her neck. She said another student hit her.

"And the principal stated, 'I can't say if she did or didn't do this herself'," said Lesley Clementi, the girl's mother.

Tuesday night, she and other Medulla parents shared their own painful stories with the school board.

"There have been a few instances from this year and last where Mason has complained of another child hitting, shoving, kicking and even throwing him to ground," said parent Arika Marshall.

Parent Katrina Aldridge said, "He has come home with bruises from kids stepping on him, he has been told to go home, put a plastic bag over his head, put a rope around his neck and kill himself."

Last week, Myra Richardson, the Principal of Medulla sent out a message to families saying:

"Dear families,

You may have seen some recent news reports that described allegations of widespread bullying at Medulla Elementary.

Medulla Elementary takes any allegation of bullying very seriously. Please be assured that our students are safe. There is not widespread bullying at Medulla Elementary.

Reports about bullying are thoroughly investigated by administrators, and there is also oversight from the district office. If bullying is determined to have taken place, an action plan is developed. Discipline is also administered when appropriate and necessary.

The staff of Medulla Elementary is dedicated to ensuring a safe learning environment. We encourage anyone who has information about possible bullying to report it. 

Bullying may be reported by contacting school administrators by phone or in person. Parents can also visit polkschoolsfl.com/bullying/ where they can report bullying online.

Please feel free to contact Medulla Elementary with any questions or concerns."

Parents claim that doesn't always happen.

"The reason there's no widespread bullying at Medulla Elementary is because the events are not being reported, instead, quietly taken care of," said parent Heather Brenneman. "Mandatory written reports should be given to parents by the administration within seven days of the incident and include actions that were taken or will be taken."

"We would love to give input to any solutions we can come up with together," said Timothy Dannemiller.

Board members say they're listening.

"We have heard your concerns, they are incredibly disturbing, they are jarring revelations and I am confident that appropriate action will be forthcoming," said Board Member Lynn Wilson.

"I am just really sad for the families and I promise it will be addressed," said Board Member Lori Cunningham.

Before the meeting ended, a teacher and parent from Medulla took a stand, defending the school they love. 

"We would never turn our head and not protect a child," said the teacher.

"This administration does not dismiss what is going on in school, they do address it and they genuinely love children there," said parent Danielle Shacter.

In addition to the school board promising to investigate parents' concerns, those who would like to discuss solutions were invited to bring them to a work session on May 14.