Bullying case in Pinellas exposes problems

Rene and Stacia Lopez

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – In an exclusive interview, the parents of a 12-year-old Pinellas County middle school student told News Channel 8 their daughter is bullied so much she’s afraid to go to school.

The parents said their cries for help went unanswered. But now, after 8 On Your Side got involved, there’s word the parents are seeing action that should put a stop to the bullying.

People in the Pinellas County Schools system that have the power to stop the bullying are very much aware of what’s going on. They are promising to make sure this 12-year-old victim doesn’t have to worry about going to school.

In this bullying case, the writing was on the wall, scrawled across a girl’s bathroom at John Hopkins Middle School in St. Petersburg.

The girl’s parents said it is just one example of bullying. They were exasperated when no one, they said, replied to their emails.

But now, there’s been a breakthrough.

“Everybody is contacting me, from the superintendent, board of directors, they’ve called and said that they’re investigating. They don’t like the things they’ve heard,” said Stacia Lopez, the girl’s mother.

8 On Your Side wanted to know why nobody from the district responded to the parent’s emails. “Unfortunately in this instance, we did discover a breakdown and some of the emails that were sent trapped in an email server because of some of the language that was used, district spokeswoman Lisa Wolf said.

A filter explains the missing emails. “But that doesn’t reflect voicemails, ya know. I went down there and I couldn’t get anybody to talk to me” Stacia said.

Changes are in the works at the school district. Wolf said the district is reviewing its processes to determine how staff members could have better addressed the parents’ issues and responded more quickly.

The district employs a bullying prevention specialist, who said quick reaction to problems is key. “Our kids, they come to school ready to learn but if they’re afraid, they’re not going to learn. They’re going to be worried about what’s going to happen at lunch or what’s going to happen with the student,” Joan Reubens said.

Stacia Lopez attributes the fast school response to 8 On Your Side. “When you guys got involved, they started calling,” she said.

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