Forced to flee
A once outgoing and precocious pre-teen is now disenchanted with the life that centers around her education, the product of bullying allowed to run amok, according to the child’s mother, Coretta Bean. The claims of the child and her parents, backed up by multiple reports filed at the school district and its policing agency, are that the 12-year-old has been the victim of sexual and physical harassment endured daily at Beaumont ISD’s Austin Middle School, a place where the girl spends the majority of her day.
“She was once a happy child, and now she’s trying to get out of going to school every day,” Bean said. “She’s basically been having to go to school and be sexually harassed by this other girl – just because this girl’s mother works for the school.”
Bean said that the harassment was brought to her attention in December 2012, the same time the campus principal, Dr. Aaron Covington, was told of the problem.
In a complaint written by the 12-year-old victim, she outlines her plight to the campus officials: “(The girl bully) has tried to get me to kiss her and give hugs,” she wrote. “She gives me a funny look every day like something is wrong. She has written notes asking me to meet her in the restroom. She has asked me out numerous times. Every time she has written me a note, I would throw it away. I have been confronted by other people about her asking me out. She has spread numerous rumors about me, and I want it to stop.”
“(Principal Covington) basically said, ‘This is what kids do,’” Bean said of what was done in response to her daughter’s outcry. “He said it would die down and that everything would be OK.”
Since then, Bean said the problems her daughter is having with her classmate have only escalated.
“This other girl wrote my daughter a note on Feb. 11 saying she wanted to make her her (sex) buddy,” Bean said. The note, provided to Austin Middle School administrators and The Examiner, uses crude language and is sexually suggestive. Following the letter and a confrontation at a local supermarket, the ongoing nature of the harassment spurred a complaint to BISD’s police department.
The next stop was the BISD administration building. Although seeking to consult with Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Schools Patricia Lambert, Bean was instead met by Assistant Superintendent for Research, Planning, and Education Dr. Dwaine Augustine. Bean was asking for a transfer of schools to get her daughter out of the environment she was in.
“I said I would drive her to whatever school they moved her to; I just needed to get my daughter out of that situation,” Bean said. Still, five days after their meeting, Dr. Augustine informed Bean that a transfer was not going to be forthcoming.
“All I wanted was to get my daughter out of that school,” she said. “But nobody at the district is trying to do anything to help us. How is bullying not a big deal at BISD?”
According to BISD spokesman Ron Reynolds, bullying and sexual harassment is a serious matter – and strictly prohibited at the district.
“My hands are tied about what I can say to you in regards even to an investigation,” Reynolds said, however, citing the Family Rights and Privacy Act. What he could say was that any claim of this nature would – of course – at first, need to be “substantiated like anything else.”
Then, Reynolds said, “The principal is responsible for the initial investigation and then informing other parties in the district, if needed, and ultimately making the decision for any further (action).”
There’s a wide range of things that could be done, Reynolds said, if a finding of harassment was found. “One action would be informing the parent – conferring with parents.” Separating the students would be another action, he said.
“The district looks at every concern on a case-by-case basis,” said Reynolds, who then summed up by referring to the Student Handbook for any further guidance about BISD’s stance on harassment.
According to the handbook, BISD “believes that all students learn best in an environment free from dating violence, discrimination, harassment and retaliation and that their welfare is best served when they are free from this prohibited conduct while attending school. Students are expected to treat other students and district employees with courtesy and respect, to avoid behaviors known to be offensive, and to stop those behaviors when asked or told to stop.
“Any student who believes that he or she has experienced harassment or retaliation should immediately report the problem to a teacher, counselor, principal or other district employee. To the extent possible, the district will respect the privacy of the student; however, limited disclosures may be necessary to conduct a thorough investigation and to comply with law.
“A student or parent who is dissatisfied with the outcome of the investigation may appeal in accordance with policy FNG (LOCAL).”
Bean said little to no action was taken to help her daughter.
“They gave the girl who was sexually harassing and bullying my daughter one day of in-school suspension,” she said. “They wanna wait for them to get into a fight or something, then they’d have a justifiable reason to suspend both girls. But I’m not going to let them do this to my daughter.”
Bean is now in the process of moving across town to get her daughter out of Austin Middle School and is talking with representatives from the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights.
“What else can we do but pack up and move?” Bean asked, only to answer herself. “I followed the chain of command at BISD, and now I have to do what I have to do.
“I’m going to move so my child doesn’t have to be miserable at that school, but I’m not going to go quietly. I don’t think it’s right the way they’ve done my daughter, and I want everyone to see how things like this are handled at BISD.”
Bean said she was not only worried for her child’s safety in school because of this situation, but of the pre-teen’s long-term mental health as a result of being constantly terrorized.
“This is the kind of thing that makes kids kill themselves,” Bean said. “My child is not going to be a statistic for BISD, though.”
“This is my only daughter,” the victim’s father, Christopher Johnson, said. According to him, the harassment has even spilled over to include other students joining in on the bullying. “They tried to jump on her today (Feb. 27). This is getting out of hand. I’ve had all I can take of this nonsense.
“When my daughter told (Principal) Covington about being jumped at school, all he told her was to walk away next time. This is just too much. When something goes on with my kids, I take it real personal.”
This is not the first claim of claim of student sexual harassment to come from Austin Middle School under Dr. Covington’s regime. In May 2012, two 11-year-old girls claim they were sexually assaulted in a Spanish class while the teacher assigned to supervise the students slept.
Jennifer Johnson can be reached at (409) 832-1400, ext. 231, or by e-mail at jennifer [at] theexaminer [dot] com.