Two groups of students who either recently graduated from or currently are attending St. Clair High School said that bullying within the confines of the R-XIII school district does not appear to be a serious problem and that contrary accusations made by adults are out of line.
The Missourian recently interviewed several students who are members of the last two SCHS graduating classes and now are attending East Central College in addition to a handful of teenagers who currently are freshmen, sophomores, juniors or seniors at the school.
“We would see people picking on their own friends sometimes, but it never was anything bad,” one former SCHS student said when asked about bullying. “There was never anything extreme, or even anything I would consider serious.”
During a district-sponsored public forum last month, several adults who packed the lower level of the SCHS gymnasium said youth bullying is a major problem locally and vehemently accused R-XIII administrators and teachers of doing little or nothing to prevent it. They added that either their children or other children they know continue to be bullied within one of the four schools.
The accusations came on the heels of the deaths of three SCHS students — a freshman, sophomore and junior — who committed suicide within a six-week period from the end of September to the middle of November.
The first two deaths led to R-XIII Superintendent Mike Murphy and his administrative team organizing the forum. The third suicide happened the day before that initial meeting.
Forums continue to take place on Tuesday evenings this month.
Investigations led authorities to determine that the three deaths did not appear to be related and that one specific event, such as bullying, was not the cause. A father of one of the victims told The Missourian that to his knowledge, his child was not bullied during school.
St. Clair school district administrators and the board of education currently are reviewing district policies, including bullying, to ensure safety of students is the priority during the school day. Trained counselors also have been at the high school every day since the third death occurred and will continue to be at least until the Christmas break later this month.
“Obviously, in high school there are cliques, but I never saw anyone in those cliques go to someone else and cause a problem,” another recent St. Clair graduate said. “For the most part, people in the cliques stayed together anyway and didn’t bother anyone else.
“Of course, we would tease each other a lot within the cliques, but really nothing more than that.”
The current high school students agreed.
“Bullying is not really a problem,” one teen said. “We don’t see it.”
“During the confines of the school day, I don’t see it either,” another SCHS student said.
All of the students were interviewed with the understanding that their names would not be used.
In all, eight former SCHS students and seven current students were interviewed as two separate groups. Some were reluctant to talk.
None of them said they were sure bullying does not exist, but they all were in agreement that it does not appear to be a big issue at the high school.
Many of the students said, however, that they have heard that cyber bullying through social media does happen. But, they also said school district staff would have difficulty policing that.
“It’s their decision (students) to do it (cyber bullying) or not do it,” one current SCHS student said. “But, since all this happened, I think most people around here are being more careful.”
“Cyber bullying is one thing the school district can’t control,” a former SCHS student said. “Social media is an external form of communication. If kids are texting or using Facebook and saying things they shouldn’t, the schools can’t control that.”
Besides its bullying policy, which includes a no-contact contract in extreme cases, the R-XIII school district also has a communications policy dealing with social media. It mainly targets teachers and staff interacting with students through a cellphone or online media.
All the students, both current and former, also agreed that if a problem arises, teachers and administrators handle it quickly.
“We always had at least one teacher we could go to if we needed something,” a former student said. “And if they couldn’t help you, they would find someone who could.”
“I guarantee you that if someone were to be bullied, a teacher or someone would stop it and not let it continue,” a current student said.
“Our school does a good job in dealing with problems,” another said. “A lot of the teachers are supportive and welcoming.”
Students Assist Others
The current students also said they have tried to be supportive and proactive in the wake of the recent deaths. The senior class organized an event during the week of the third suicide in which necklaces were distributed to students. The teens also received several pieces of string that they could attach to the necklaces of other students.
“We would put a piece string on the necklaces and say something nice to them,” one current senior said. “Positive things were said. This was a concerted effort to get to know kids we didn’t know and to remind everyone that they are important.
“We’ve really been trying to positively reinforce that everyone matters.”
Dozens of signs also have been hung within the hallways targeting positive reinforcement of students and student behavior.
Some of the younger students interviewed said, however, that despite the healing and the improved camaraderie at SCHS, some fears continue.
“Some of us are still scared and worried about our friends and what could happen,” a freshman said. “This has been so difficult.”
The current students also said they do not want the tragedies to leave a black mark on the school district, adding that there are many good things happening in the hallways and classrooms.
“People and the media always emphasize the negative,” one teen said. “But so many great things also happen here.”
“We want people to know St. Clair is a good place,” another said, “because it is a good place.”