One by one, mothers and grandmothers offered glimpses Saturday into the nightmares they say their children are living at the hands of school bullying, as well as the frustrations they have faced trying to remedy the situation.
The Quad-City parents told of incidents in which their children were verbally harassed, threatened, mentally abused and even physically assaulted. In one case, a child was beaten as the bullies captured the attack on a cellphone and posted it online. Some shared how their children are too scared to go back to school, have been prescribed antidepressants and have threatened suicide.
Nearly 50 people, including 15 children, gathered at the Col Ballroom in Davenport for the event, which originated with one mother who turned to social media after her son's third attack left him with bruises on his face and other injuries. Ashley Mack said the latest assault on her son, who is on the autism spectrum, came earlier this month on his way home from a Davenport school.
"He has been bullied since kindergarten and by the same group of boys since fourth grade," she said of her 12-year-old. The bullying, she said, began in elementary school and has continued into middle school. She said she has ''gotten the runaround" from school administrators and the police as she has attempted to protect her son. She also criticized the school district for not being aware of its policies and not acting appropriately. Mack said she put their story on Facebook out of desperation, and "was flooded by emails from parents in similar situations."
"It's time to raise awareness,'' she said.
In a prepared statement, the Davenport School District said the incident was handled promptly and according to procedures. But school officials declined to comment further due to student confidentiality.
Mack's Facebook post united her with Kathryn Morris, a Davenport grandmother with custody of a 14-year-old autistic child who also has been bullied for years, she said. "These kids are the kindest, sweetest children. They wouldn't hurt a fly. They don't deserve it," she said breaking down in tears.
The women organized Saturday's event with a guest speaker, Gabriella van Rij, an activist who writes and speaks against bullying. "I've decided to become the voice of the children,'' said van Rij, who uses her own story of being bullied to educate children how to respond. Now living in Bettendorf, she hosts an Internet radio and television show to spread her message of human kindness.
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"Even though there is death going on (because of bullying), nothing is getting done," van Rij told the crowd. "When I first started this a year and a half ago, there was one death a month. Then there was one a week and now there is one death a day in the U.S.A. (related to bullying)."
Phil Yerington, who served 34 years on the Davenport Police Department, joined the discussion to encourage the parents to ban together to demand a solution and action by their public officials. "They're throwing a lot of words around and throwing a lot of blame at each other, but nobody is solving the problem," he said.
"It takes the biggest voice in city government. It takes 100 parents at school board ... demand accountability," said Yerington, who is running as a write-in candidate for Davenport mayor. "When you start rising as a group, that is when you start seeing changes being made."
Collectively, the group made a call for action — encouraging all those in attendance to attend Davenport's School board meeting at 7 p.m. Monday night at the district's administrative center. "Rally together, take time to call the superintendent," van Rij said. "Don't stop. Your child is too precious. We don't want any more dying."
After the meeting, Morris said while she had hoped for a larger crowd, their stories gave her comfort. "We did feel we were all alone for the longest time."