Online bullying leads to physical threats at Savannah school

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - The family of a Savannah-Chatham Public School System fifth grader says online bullying led to physical threats outside of her elementary school, but with the help of her school and district staff, the issue is being mitigated.

Denise McKenna said older middle school students started bullying her 10-year-old granddaughter, Makala, outside of Windsor Forest Elementary School about two weeks ago.

"She says 'I need you to be on time to be outside today because this young lady said again she wants to beat me up," McKenna said. "I go outside, and there's like 15-20 kids standing at the bottom of our driveway."

She lives right across the street from the school but said Makala couldn't walk those few feet alone.

"They were so persistent, and they were clever," she said. "They would hide behind buses so that when the police came through, they couldn't see them."

Makala's mom, Deidre McKenna, said when they weren't successful after school, they attempted to reach her daughter at school.

"The problems that we were having extended so far as the kids tried to break into the fence at the school during recess, during school hours, so that they could fight her then since we weren't allowing it to happen after school," she said.

Deidre then documented the problems with photos and videos and sent emails to the school principal and campus police. Since then, she said the issues have decreased.

"School principal is actively involved in the situation," she said. "We have a Savannah Metro officer that is making it his point to be present for us in the afternoons, and campus police has been fully made aware of the situation, the severity of the situation. They're getting involved as well."

Quentina Miller-Fields, Director of Student Affairs for the Savannah-Chatham Public School System, said that's exactly the path parents should take when reporting bullying.

"The most important thing that a parent can do is communicate. communicate with their child and then communicate with us," Miller-Fields said. "Make the principal aware of the situation, and the principal will try to handle it at his or her level, and if it's beyond what they can do, then we may need to get campus police involved, and then my office would be involved as well."

Miller-Fields said hearing the McKenna's issues are being addressed positively is exciting.

"We want the word and the message to be very, very clear in that bullying will not be tolerated, and if anybody finds themselves being victimized due to bullying to please contact someone at their local public school, and if necessary, please contact us at the district level. My office will respond to it. We will deal with the student. We will deal with family, and we will also deal with the school to make sure we're taking all the necessary precautions. These are our children, and we don't want anything to happen to them. We made a promise to our families, and we made a promise to the community that we would provide an environment that was safe and conducive to learning. Certainly, if a child is being bullied, that is not an environment which is conducive to learning."

The Mckenna's say it all started with some back and forth on social media, and they took away Makala's phone when they found out. Deidre hopes other parents will be as proactive, and the district agrees.

"We've got to pay more attention to the kids," Deidre said. "We have to pay more attention to everything that they have going on. Whether they're on their cell phones, in their rooms, by themselves, there's no way that they should be able to have arguments that escalate to something this big that we don't catch."

Miller-Fields said more parental monitoring of social media is a big focus for the district.

"Make sure you know who they're corresponding to on social media, what the correspondence is," she said. "It starts with social media and then it spills over."

Deidre and Denise said they don't necessarily want the group of children punished but hope this is a lesson to them that bullying is not an option and gets more parents involved.

The school district is hosting a bullying prevention and awareness summit on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018 at the Mighty Eighth Museum in Pooler from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The first 100 adults and first 40 students to sign up can attend for free.

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