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Willard school chief says district and community are 'concerned about our students'

• Updated Apr 21, 2017 at 8:51 PM

WILLARD — Caleb William Hershiser, 14, died April 2.

Questions surround the death of this eighth grader, who was the son of Robert W. and Anna M. (Cummings) Hershiser of Willard.

Caleb might have taken actions that led to his death, police said. He died shortly after being taken to Willard Mercy Hospital.

Police launched an investigation after receiving a tip that bullying might have been played a role in the teen’s death.

“It’s under investigation,” Willard Police Chief Mark Holden previously told the Reflector.

“My officers are still interviewing people,” Holden added. “We’ve conducted extensive interviews with anyone who has had contact with him. There is no indication that bullying was involved. That seems to be the catch phrase being brandied around right now. We’ve talked to everyone that’s had contact with him and there was one person in particular mentioned and it doesn’t look like bullying was involved.”

After the Reflector published a story that included comments from Holden and Willard school officials, many area residents shared their thoughts through letters and social media posts, alleging bullying indeed played a role in Caleb’s death and is a big problem in Willard.

In response, Willard City Schools Superintendent Jeff Ritz wrote the following letter:

The Willard City Schools and community have many caring adults who truly are concerned about our students and work together to provide a safe learning environment every day. In school and in the community, it is especially important for students and adults to openly communicate when there is a problem. If there is no indication of an issue, it is difficult for the school or community to work toward a solution.

Bullying is a growing epidemic; one that affects not only children, but parents, teachers and communities. No longer is bullying confined to a schoolyard where children could previously escape the pressure of bullies and retreat to a safe place called home. With the rise of the internet and social media, comes new ways for students to bully others at any time in any place. Statistics gathered from sources including StopBullying.gov found 35% of kids have been threatened online. In addition, according to the National Education Association, PACER Center, and StopBullying.gov:

• One in 7 students in grades K to 12 are either a bully or have been a victim of bullying.

• An estimated 160,000 U.S. children miss school every day due to fear of attack or intimidation by other students, and 64 percent of children who were bullied did not report it.

• Nearly 70 percent of students think schools respond poorly to bullying.

According to the National Education Association, bullying has serious, adverse educational effects and students who are targets often experience extreme stress that can lead to symptoms of physical illness and a diminished ability to learn. This results in increased absenteeism and impaired performance, as indicated by decreased test scores. (Anti-Bullying Institute)

The law requires schools to report the number of bullying incidences reported in the previous six month period. From August 2016 to December 2016 the Willard City Schools had six bullying reports. Each report was thoroughly investigated and dealt with in a proper manner by the school district. This information is published on our district website under the Curriculum tab, and then select “Parent Information.”

The Willard City Schools, the City of Willard, the Willard Ministerial Association, and other civic organizations are planning to hold a work session in order to better understand issues our students are facing. Information gleaned from this session will be studied and used to devise a plan to further open the lines of communication with our students and to provide a safe means to report bullying. The Willard City Schools will continue to educate our students and staff on methods to prevent bullying, and it will take the continued support of our entire community to prevent this awful epidemic from continuing.

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