Family wants bullying to stop at Belleville school; district says it 'thoroughly investigates all allegations'

News-DemocratDecember 27, 2013 

Twelve-year-old Haylee Hamilton just wants a safe place to go to school. Ever since the beginning of the school year, Haylee, a sixth-grader, said she has been the target of a bully at Jefferson Elementary School in Belleville.

"The school has done nothing to help," Haylee said.

Jefferson Elementary School is in Belleville School District 118, and Assistant Superintendent Ryan Boike said the district promptly and thoroughly investigates all allegations of bullying.

"We want to do anything we can to protect students and keep students safe," he said.

However, Haylee's mother Melisa Hamilton, 34, said school officials aren't doing enough to stop the bullying, which includes vulgar name calling and physical abuse.

"I want justice for Haylee. She should be able to go to school; be safe at school; and be safe on her way home from school," Hamilton said. "Her needs are not being met."

Boike said he couldn't discuss specifics regarding the alleged bullying against Haylee due to student confidentially.

"I'm aware of the allegations," he said. "I hate to hear any child is having a bad experience. We want kids to feel safe and comfortable at school."

Boike said the district has a policy against bullying and is dedicated to promoting character education and diversity awareness among students.

"I have seen no response," Hamilton said. "They say they talked to the kids ... but still nothing is being changed."

This is Haylee's first year at Jefferson. She previously attended Douglas Elementary School in Belleville. "That school was very safe," Haylee said. "Everyone treated me fair, and I treated them fair."

Haylee said she is verbally bullied almost every day on the walk home after school and is physically abused at least once a week. Earlier this month, Hamilton said she filed a police report with the Belleville Police Department.

"I just feel the school isn't doing anything," Hamilton said. "Belleville Police Department isn't doing anything."

Belleville Police Capt. Don Sax confirmed a disorderly conduct report was filed by Hamilton in reference to a disturbance between two female juveniles on Dec. 2. He said he couldn't provide any other information due to the case involving minors.

Mostly, Haylee is bullied by a fellow female classmate on the walk home after school. Hamilton said Haylee must walk home as the district doesn't provide bus transportation from Jefferson to her home less than a mile away on Florida Avenue, and she doesn't have a car and can't pick her daughter up from school.

Hamilton said she's not able to walk to Jefferson to meet her daughter, because she needs to be home when her son gets back from school. "I have more than one kid who comes home at the same time," she said.

Haylee said she talks to her bully and tells her to stop. "I followed the school rules about how to deal with a bully, but it didn't work," she said. "That stuff can just go in the trash."

Haylee's brother Anthony Ponder, 16, a sophomore at Belleville East High School, has witnessed Haylee being bullied on her walk home. "She was calling her names," Anthony said.

He said the school isn't doing enough to protect his sister. "They need to either suspend or expel her," he said of Haylee's bully.

Haylee is not looking forward to returning to school after winter break. "I don't want to go back, but I have to," she said. "I don't want to be at Jefferson. I just want to go back to school at Douglas."

"I haven't been wanting to send her back to school," Hamilton said, "but I'm not going to get in trouble for her not getting an education."

The constant bullying has affected Haylee's grades negatively, Hamilton said.

"She'd always been a pretty decent student gradewise," she said of Haylee.

Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or jforsythe1@bnd.com.

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