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I-Team: Battling Bullies

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Bullying victim plays in his yard after school. Bullying victim plays in his yard after school.
Melrose Elementary Melrose Elementary
Courtney Robins, the bullying victim's mother, insisted her name and face be used in the report. Courtney Robins, the bullying victim's mother, insisted her name and face be used in the report.
Dr. Jesse Lambert, child psychiatrist Dr. Jesse Lambert, child psychiatrist
Keith Bromery, a spokesperson for the East Baton Rouge Parish School System Keith Bromery, a spokesperson for the East Baton Rouge Parish School System
BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) -

A child who appears to be a happy, playful boy actually has a story that's painful to hear.

"I tell them stop bullying me," said a 9-yr-old Baton Rouge boy.  "They had got the garbage can, and they tried to flip me over in it."

The child said he has been bullied at Melrose Elementary for the past three years.

"They had a sock one day and when I walked in the bathroom, they put marbles in it and then they had hit me with it in the back of the head," said the child.

From the bathroom, to his classroom or even the cafeteria where other children allegedly hit him with food, all of that is just the beginning.  Now, he avoids the school bathroom at all costs. 

"The first time they peed on me was the first time I went to the bathroom at that school," said the child.  

"(He) is late for school most mornings because he's afraid that he's going to get jumped on in the bathroom, and that is the key point when he gets urinated on," said the boy's mother Courtney Robins, who insisted on being identified.  "When I pull his glasses off at night, there are tears in his eyes.  It makes you feel like you didn't do a good job but if you know you're doing all you can, it's hard.  It's hard to see him suffer."

She has two other children who also go to Melrose Elementary, but said her 9-yr-old is the only one being bullied.  She said he is a slow learner, autistic and has a short attention span.

Robins has pictures she's taken after the fact in just this school year where her son's book bag & uniform are cut up.  She said she's replaced several pairs of pants & even his broken glasses.  She's filed five different police reports, one for her son's hair being cut at school after he put his head down because he had headache.  

"When you got up, what did you see?" asked WAFB's Kiran Chawla.
"Hair on my desk, and I saw scissors in his hand," replied the child.

Both Melrose Elementary and the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office looked into the hair cutting allegation and said it was their belief that the child's hair was not cut in the classroom and the case was closed.

"It is to the degree that it's just heartbreaking and it just, it hurts you as a mother to know your child has to endure that on a day-to-day basis," said Robins.

Something Child Psychiatrist Dr. Jesse Lambert said takes a toll on any child.

"There's that immediate sense of anxiety, of shame, of sadness, exclusion, feeling ostracized," Dr. Lambert.

Dr. Lambert said bullying is no longer shoving someone or talking badly about someone.  Instead, it's now defined as a repeated behavior of aggression.  

"If a child is bullied constantly, how damaging can that be," asked Chawla.

"This is a developmental period where friends and socialization becomes paramount.  It's a guiding influence," said Dr. Lambert.  "They can't form friends and they feel very alone in the world.  In some cases, we are seeing the most tragic outcome, which unfortunately is suicide." 

That's why the mother feels helpless now.  She said she has called school superintendent Dr. Bernard Taylor more than 200 times asking for a meeting, that after she said she got no where in talks with the school and Dr. Taylor's staff.

"We've spent numerous hours trying to address this," said Keith Bromery, spokesperson for the East Baton Rouge School System. 

The I-Team asked for an interview for this report more than two weeks ago.  The school system emailed a statement declining an on-camera interview saying it violated their confidentiality policies even though the mother waived all confidentiality.  However, after seeing the WAFB promotional commercial for the story late last week, the school district requested a last-minute interview.

Kiran: "We specifically asked for an interview with Dr. Taylor on this issue, not only on this specific case but bullying in general.  Why are you doing the interview in his place?"
Bromery: "He asked me to."
Kiran: "So he did not want to go on camera?"
Bromery: "He has many things to do today coming off three days of weather related shut downs.  He does not have the time for this."
Kiran: "Because I asked two weeks ago for him to interview."
Bromery: "Yup, well, sorry."
Bromery stresses they have bullying policies in place and any school employee who deals with children has to go through training.  He said they follow up on each and every allegation just like he said they have done in the 9-yr-old's case at Melrose Elementary.

Bromery: "They haven't identified any bullying situation that's been going on."
Kiran: "So are you saying this little boy is lying?"
Bromery: "All I know is the evidence hasn't substantiated what's been alleged."
Kiran: "Because his book bag has been cut, his hair has been cut. Is he doing that on his own?"
Bromery: "I don't know.  They haven't been able to substantiate that anybody is doing this to him."

Bromery said they have offered Robins to transfer her son to any school in the district with bus service and a counselor and a older student, or buddy system as they call it, but she turned it all down.  

Robins told the I-team they offered to transfer him, but without transportation.  As for the counselor and buddy system, she said they offered it but never followed through.  She said that's why she's now paying out-of-pocket to get her son counseling.    

"Dr. Taylor goes out and says, 'Oh, he's here for you. Call his office.  He will help.'  How can someone call your office or you ask for help if you won't take five minutes, five minutes to speak to me," said Robins.

Kiran: "What do you say to that?"
Bromery: "That's not really Dr. Taylor's role.  His role is to have people under him and as I said, this has been handled all the way up to his senior cabinet level, deputy superintendents to assistant . superintendent level." 
Kiran: "I guess I'm a little confused.  You're saying that's not his role, but then you're saying he is involved."
Bromery: "His role is to oversee it.  He is the manager of the school system.  He cannot get directly involved in each and every one of these cases."

"If he help me out, I would give him one of my helicopters," said the child.

The I-team reviewed the total number of documented bullying incidents at East Baton Rouge public schools since 2011.  There have been 502 total cases since 2011 from 58 different schools.  

2011-2012: 239 cases
2012-2013: 200 cases
2013-2014 (so far): 63 cases  

We would like to know about more cases of bullying in the area. Send your story to Kiran Chawla - kchawla@wafb.com as we continue to look into this problem.

If you know someone who is being bullied, you need to reach out to your school principal or to remain anonymous, you call Crime Stoppers at 344-7867 and let them contact school administrators for you.  Crime Stoppers has partnered with ICare to get victims of bullying the help they need.  

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