The Coeur d’Alene School Board confronted charges of racism, bullying and preferential treatment in schools and school sports during a meeting Monday night that brought out heartfelt pleas by parents and sympathetic responses by district officials.
Four parents told the board their children have been bullied at school to the point of missing many days of classes and being placed on medication. They spoke of racial slurs, discrimination based on social class, and allegations that families who donate generously to certain sports are rewarded with favorable treatment of their kids.
Doneisa Eborall said her daughter missed five weeks of school one semester and went on anti-depressants as a result of bullying last year in seventh grade.
“You have to stop the bullying. The racist bullying, the higher-class bullying, the girls who think they’re better than everybody else bullying,” Eborall said.
“I think racism, it needs to be addressed,” she added. “I love this community, but I hate this community, you know. Take some action.”
Wanda Condon said her daughter’s grades and interest in attending school suffered as a result of being bullied by students whose families gave a lot of money to the district and acted like they were entitled to special treatment.
“I assure you the pain that’s being caused to her is very real,” Condon said.
Anna Watson said she, too, has seen the influence of money and power at play in the district.
“As with almost everything with money, strings are attached sometimes,” Condon said.
She spoke of separate accounts being kept for some sports and lax oversight of those funds. “You are at fault if you don’t know where that money is going or what it’s being used for,” she said.
Superintendent Hazel Bauman responded first with an apology to those who appeared before the board.
“I would like to say my heartfelt apologies for the mistreatment your children have been receiving,” she said. “That is absolutely not what I want our school system to be. It is not what I condone at any level, whatsoever.”
Bauman said she experienced bullying in her family, recounting how her son was subjected to it in middle school.
“I know personally what it feels like as a parent to see the vulnerability of your child, so I take it very, very seriously,” she said.
The district did investigate the recent bullying claims and disciplined some students and staff, Bauman added.
“We took very significant action. Actually in one case somebody’s employment ended,” she said.
Bullying is a thorny issue with no simple answers, the superintendent added.
“How do we unravel a culture where students somehow or other have come to believe that this one-upmanship, bullying and the cruelty that they visit on each other is somehow the right thing to do?” Bauman asked. “It breaks my heart.”
She said she is working with board Chairman Tom Hamilton on a plan to tackle the problem and begin to change the culture that allows bullying to thrive. That includes bringing before the board soon a proposal to tie district policies to the Idaho High School Activities Association’s code of ethics.
Bauman also said the district would audit athletic accounts to make sure funds are being properly handled.
Addressing another embarrassing incident for the school district, Brent Regan, the newest member of the school board, apologized again for recently making a public remark about President Barack Obama that offended some.
Facing fellow board members Monday night, Regan said he made “a regrettable comment and some people found it offensive, and I’m deeply sorry for that.” He apologized to the board, administrators, teachers, parents and students.
Regan has said he meant the comment he made at a legislative forum on Jan. 26 as a humorous anecdote but understood that it was hurtful to some in the community. He also apologized last week at a meeting of local Republicans.