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Polk schools unveil plan to improve response to student behavior problems

The new plan wasn’t enough to comfort a woman who says her granddaughter was bullied at Medulla Elementary School in Lakeland.

BARTOW, Fla. — Polk County Schools unveiled a new district-wide School Discipline and Student Behavior Response Plan on Tuesday. 

The plan includes goals for improving the district’s response to issues like bullying and says while the overall number of student discipline behaviors is down, the district has seen an increase in highly disruptive and intense student behaviors.

“What I don’t think we do well as a district here yet, what I’ve been pushing for a long time, is to have some district-level standards for how we intervene,” Polk County School Board member Billy Townsend told 10News.

The new plan, which is already starting to be implemented for next school year, wasn’t enough to comfort Tracey Dannemiller who says her granddaughter was bullied at Medulla Elementary School in Lakeland. She said she reported it to the school and never got a response.

“I never, once, sitting in there today, heard nor have I heard from any staff member that they have acknowledged these things happening to our children,” said Dennemiller. “It amazes me how on the Polk County Schools logo it says ‘Children First’, and when I hear Mrs. Burke say that they’re standing behind their staff it’s like, 'What about our children?'”

For Dannemiller, the district’s efforts to address its response to student behavior like bullying comes as too little, too late.

“I commend them for taking steps and trying to move forward,” she added. “That’s great, sometimes that’s all you can do but still, nobody is acknowledging what happened to our children. It’s like it never happened and we’re just ready to move forward”

Despite other parents’ complaints of similar problems with the response to bullying at Medulla Elementary, Townsend said he supports the staff at the school.

“I don’t believe that Medulla has a bullying problem that is any worse or is any different than at any school that has ever existed in the history of schools,” he said. “We have a bullying team which was called in for the Medulla event, but I think we can be more prompt, I think that we can be a little more empathetic in how we deal with parents and how we deal with staff.”

“A lot of times a big public issue like this helps lead to some meaningful reform and that will help prevent other things from happening,” he added.

The issues at Medulla Elementary are not Polk County’s first experience with bullying problems. Six months ago, a judge had to step in and issue a restraining order against a sixth-grader accused of bullying, and in September 2013 a 12-year-old student committed suicide after being bullied in Winter Haven.

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