One parent’s comment resonated in each of the nearly 20 experiences that were given Monday night at the Willard school board meeting.
About 40 parents, students and other community members, including relatives of the late Caleb Hershiser, gathered in the Willard High School auditorium to show their support and share their bullying experiences and displeasure with the district and board, occasionally offering an idea on how to fix the “bullying epidemic.” Most wore white and blue “7-1-02—4-2-17 Caleb Hershiser; Stop bullying” T-shirts.
Tensions ran high at times as a couple voices from the audience rose and others gave way to grief about their own bullying experiences or the over the loss of Hershiser, a 14-year-old Willard Middle School student.
Hershiser is believed to have taken his own life with a single gun shot on the night of April 2 in his family’s home as a response to the intense bullying he experienced at school. The community and Hershiser’s family have demanded answers.
“Where are the records of his bullying? Why were they not kept? Why was nothing done? We want answers,” said one mother.
One Willard sophomore, whose mother said she is bullied “because of the color of her skin — for being biracial,” said she has dealt with feelings of depression herself over the bullying she has experienced, including being called “the n-word.”
“I didn’t know Caleb personally but I wish I did because I would tell him how much he meant to the world and to his mom,” KeyAuna Spearman said through her tears.
“My mom has taught me don’t let what anyone calls you or tells you get you down. Allowing them to get to you, puts you on their level. ... I feel like this is where some kid should be able to come for a safe haven. For Caleb, it was torture.”
She told the board she had an idea that could help: a middle school support group, much like the group of students and teachers she recently shared the idea with who met after Hershiser’s death.
“We have this in high school, but the eighth and seventh graders, they obviously needed it more than we did,” Spearman said. “We need something where we can give these seventh and eighth grade students the support they need. Caleb wasn’t even in high school yet. He didn’t get to live his life.
“We need to do something about it because it’s going to happen to more kids and it’s going to be on your hands,” she added.
“You can go home, tuck your kids in at night and kiss them goodbye,” Spearman’s mother, Amanda Kidd, said. “Anna (Hershiser) can’t.”
One Willard mother shared the story of how her son, now grown, was beaten in elementary school during a recess so bad his leg was broken in three places “with the bone sticking out of his leg.”
“The teachers didn’t believe him,” she said. “They called me at work and said he was exaggerating the pain. They loaded him up in my car and told me to take him the hospital after (I saw how bad it was). They gave the boy who did it three days in-school suspension but it was Valentine’s day and they didn’t want him to miss out on the party. So that boy got to enjoy the Valentine’s party while my son was in the hospital.
“I fought tooth and nail with the school. They told me if I would have fed my child right, his bones wouldn’t be so brittle,” she said, tears coming to her eyes.
“The principal then put (the name of the boy who caused it) on the board as classroom citizen of the month and praised him for his wrestling that broke my son’s leg. From that point on, I home-schooled my children. I don’t think it’s fair that no one listens to the kids that are bullied.”
Numerous other stories were shared. Some involved teachers insulting students. Others pertained to students teasing other students. In some cases, emotional, mental and/or physically bullying was discussed.
“It takes a village to raise a child,” said Willard father Todd Bub. “The school district is part of that community. We take all the precautions we can nationally and locally to keep people safe, to keep people safe from terrortsts. What happenes when the terrortists are in your own shcool? That is exactly what’s going on. Something has to be done.
“The school is an extension of our home, our morals and values,” Bub said. “(The safety) cannot stop here. We cannot have teachers turning a deaf ear. This is (expletive). I don’t care who it is. Each person is a person. We all have brains. We all have hearts. We all have souls.
“Everybody wants to live in community they’re proud of,” he added. “They’re not proud to be here.”