Even before a third St. Clair High School teenager took her own life early last week, school district personnel were planning a review of its student policies and procedures that are in place, including bullying.
After the tragic event on Monday night, Nov. 12, the sense of urgency skyrocketed.
St. Clair board of education members took a look at and discussed the district’s anti-bullying and prevention measures and resources as well as the policy already in place when they gathered for their monthly meeting this past Thursday. Even though it appears through individual investigations that none of the three teenage suicides that have occurred since Sept. 28 directly were related to bullying, leaders wanted to make sure current rules and regulations were addressing the issue when necessary and the policy was helping to prevent it.
“Following the second event of suicide, we wanted to ensure we were managing student behavior as best we can moving forward,” R-XIII Superintendent Mike Murphy said. “... There are many things that go into this process. We have to evaluate the effectiveness of our current policy and structure and see what we can add to it to further assist the process.”
Sixteen-year-old Destiny Pearson, a freshman at SCHS, was found dead in her home in the Washington County portion of Lonedell Lakes at about 8 p.m. on Nov. 12. On Nov. 2, SCHS sophomore Donna Jo Cooley, 15, was found dead in her home. On Sept. 28, St. Clair junior Jordan Halmich, 16, also was found dead.
“Each incident seems to be in isolation of each other,” Murphy told The Missourian last week. “Investigations in each instance, to the best of our knowledge, indicate many things seemed to be contributing factors that led to the decisions these students made. It’s tough to pinpoint one specific cause. But it looks like there is no relation.”
Pearson’s father, Walter Pearson, told The Missourian on Monday that he believed his daughter was not a victim of bullying.
“That was the not the cause (of her death),” he said. “She was not bullied. In fact, I think she was far from being bullied. She was more likely to have been a bully.”
According to the R-XIII school district bullying policy, which Murphy said is available on the district’s website, “the district is committed to maintaining a learning and working environment free of any form of bullying or intimidation by students toward district personnel or students on school grounds, or school time, at a school-sponsored activity or in a school-related context.”
It goes on to state that bullying “is the intentional action by an individual or group of individuals to inflict physical, emotional or mental suffering of another individual or group of individuals.”
Murphy said, in part, because of the three incidents and because of bullying concerns raised by some adults during the district’s suicide forum that took place last Tuesday night, the district remains committed to making sure the policy is being followed and any issues are handled as effectively and efficiently as possible.
“We know there are concerns with this kind of behavior,” he told the board of education members. “We are revisiting this and trying to engage the community and students so we can encourage positive movement.”
During the forum, some adults who vividly were upset accused the R-XIII administration of “doing nothing” even after bullying incidents had been reported by students. Several adults said their children had been bullied and even after it was brought to the attention of teachers or principals, “the incidents continued.”
St. Clair’s bullying policy continues by stating that students “who are found to have violated this policy will be subject to the following consequences depending on factors such as age of student(s), degree of harm, severity of behavior, number of incidences, etc.” The consequences are loss of privileges, classroom detention, conference with teacher, parents contacted, conference with principal, in-school suspension, out-of-school suspension, expulsion and law enforcement contact.
“District employees are required to report any instance of bullying of which the employee has first-hand knowledge,” the policy reads. “Moreover, the district will provide training for employees relative to enforcement of this policy.”
Each of the district’s four schools also has internal resources they use in an effort to educate students and staff about bullying as well as preventing it. Those resources include a code of conduct handbook, speakers, videos, training, workshops and character development.
St. Clair R-XIII also has a “no-contact” order at the high school that Murphy said is similar to a restraining order. It lists the beginning and ending dates of the order, parties involved, signature of students involved, verification by SCHS administrators that parental contact has been made and an explanation of the order.
“A complaint of bullying and/or harassment has been brought to the attention of the high school administration,” the order reads. “An investigation did not reveal definitively that bullying and/or harassment occurred. However, there was enough suspicion to warrant a no-contact order, in which neither party is allowed to interact in any manner with the other party in which it will affect the daily routine for each party at school.
“Neither party may communicate to the other party nor go out of one’s normal routine to gain proximity to the other party in which it may affect the daily routine at school. Any means of social media, Facebook, texting, etc. can be considered violating the no-contact order.”
Assistant Superintendent Mark Denbow, who helps handle discipline in the school district, also discussed bullying policies with board members.
“Our folks do a real good job of taking each incident seriously,” he said. “It can be difficult, however, to prove when it’s a one-on-one situation. Through this process, we will look to improve. That’s all we can do.”
Murphy added to that.
“We’re a long ways from being out of the woods,” he said. “But we’re better off today than (yesterday), and we’ll be better off tomorrow than we are today.
“There are many things that go into this. We’re pulling in people from all buildings and all directions to work on it. We have to evaluate effectiveness, seek the component of partnering and protect the safety of our students.
“This is a passionate cause in this community,” he said. “We can never underestimate people to come together. Our greatest concern is longevity. We’re looking for a commitment to service over the long term. That’s the key to effective change.”
The superintendent said he hopes programs and group discussions will be added to help the district and its patrons deal with and move forward after the recent tragedies. One such grief meeting was scheduled Tuesday night.
The R-XIII administration said it is working on a time line for additional support and assistance.