As the school year kicks off in Bryan County, here are three concerns shared by parents

Students arrive Tuesday morning for the first day of school at McAllister Elementary School in Richmond Hill.

Credit: Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News

Combined ShapeCaption
Students arrive Tuesday morning for the first day of school at McAllister Elementary School in Richmond Hill.

Credit: Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News

Students in Bryan County are returning to class this week and parents have a growing list of fears they want school administrators to fix.

Bullying is a key concern and parents are grappling with an inclusion plan that some believe could do more harm than good. Some took to social media to share their frustrations and are concerned about whether their child will thrive this school year.

Here are their top three concerns:

Bullying

Dagmara Leach’s son is not one to skip school. In fact, he has had perfect attendance in the last three years. But recently, his love for learning has dwindled.

As he navigates his way to his classroom at Richmond Hill Middle School, his mind is flooded with thoughts of who will torment him next. Leach said the bullying has become so intense, he would rather stay at home.

Socioeconomic differences have put a barrier between the haves and the have nots. Leach shared emails she sent to the school’s administration voicing her concern. In it she writes that bullying has “affected him very much."

"It has nothing to do with schoolwork, but with being bullied by 'the Gucci parts kids' meaning Buckhead kids and everyone one else that does not fit their housing standards.”

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Leach recalled an instance where food was thrown at her son and pointed to the dangers of social media. She reached out to the school to share her concern, saying, “there are so many Richmond Hill Middle School students on (Instagram) with inappropriate behavior…this is absurd.

"First off, why are cellphones allowed to be used in the classroom? Why aren’t these kids being supervised? This might not be my kid on the videos, but just a few weeks ago I had to contact a mother about bullying because the school didn’t do anything about it.”

Lastly, she pleaded with school officials to take her seriously. Leach worries about the long-term effects bullying may have on her son.

"I do not want my son to end up like that girl," said Leach referring to Sydney Sanders, a former student at Richmond Hill High School who committed suicide in 2011. "There has to be something that can be done about this. This is going on too long and too far."

The good and bad of inclusion

Just as companies are making the push to ensure employees with disabilities are not excluded in the workplace, school systems across the country are bridging the gap between gifted, general education and IEP (Individualized Education Plan) students.

But Anthony Boaen was shocked when he learned his son, a general education student at Carver Elementary in Richmond Hill, would be sharing a class with 10 IEP students this year.

A number of kids can fall into the IEP category, including those with learning disabilities or autism. According to Boaen, the move is part of the school’s inclusion plan to ensure all students feel a sense of belonging. But he also has a fourth grader in the gifted program and worries both his children will struggle academically.

According to Boaen, a teacher will teach their lesson in different ways to accommodate each group’s learning level. But that leaves a lot of time for his kids to be idle and lose focus in learning altogether. He is especially concerned about his daughter who must maintain a certain GPA to stay in the gifted program.

“I have talked to some family members that have kids in similar situations in Chatham County,” said Boaen. “What ends up happening is the gifted kids are pretty much given busy work and the same thing goes for the gen ed kids as a teacher spends time with the kids that are struggling with the material.”

Combined ShapeCaption
Young students comfort one another as they walk into McAllister Elementary School Tuesday for the first day of school.

Credit: Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News

Young students comfort one another as they walk into McAllister Elementary School Tuesday for the first day of school.

Credit: Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News

Combined ShapeCaption
Young students comfort one another as they walk into McAllister Elementary School Tuesday for the first day of school.

Credit: Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News

Credit: Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News

Megan Sullivan, who taught outside Bryan County, said it is nearly impossible to have a classroom filled with students at different learning levels.

“If they want to integrate special ed, general ed and gifted in one classroom, then they need to cut those class sizes in half,” said Sullivan. “If you have children learning at an advanced level, they should learn with kids at that level. If you have kids that need extra time to grasp concepts, they should be learning with other kids who need extra time grasping concepts. Everyone could be grouped together for specials, lunch and recess, but it’s hard as an educator to meet the needs of all students in one class.”

But parents of IEP students like Lizzie Roman thinks it is a good idea for students to be integrated, so long as they receive additional support and do not become a target for bullying.

“It would be good for them to have a learning specialist to sit with them to provide the one-on-one support they need and also keep them safe from other children who don’t understand special needs kids,” said Roman.

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With children at varying academic levels, Boaen said it is not only about supporting the gifted ones. He is advocating for all students so no child gets left behind.

“I'm catching a lot of backlash because people are saying oh, we are better than everybody else,” said Boaen. “That's not really the case. I have kids at different learning levels at home, so I understand the other side of it. I just want to see each child get what they need academically.”

Monitoring on school buses

Laura Zimmerman’s two sons attend Richmond Hill Primary and Richmond Hill Elementary. Her youngest, a kindergartener last year, was hoping his older brother would shield him from older students who intimidate the younger ones.

But every time he got on the bus, it was near capacity.

“My son told me half the time when he gets on the bus, somebody's sitting in the seat with his brother,” said Zimmerman. “And there is no adult in the back. The driver can't be a monitor because he is driving.”

A full bus is worrisome for Zimmerman, not only for safety concerns, but because older students watch things on their phone that are not age appropriate. Dangerous videos, such as the blackout challenge, mislead kids to choke themselves.

In December, a 10-year old girl from Pennsylvania was found dead in her closet after accidentally hanging herself. A forensic analysis showed she viewed the challenge right before her death.

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Credit: Steve Scholar / For Savannah Morning News

Credit: Steve Scholar / For Savannah Morning News

Zimmerman does not want her sons to fall victim to something they think is harmless and that starts with providing enough bussing to separate older and younger students.

“Obviously, they're totally talking about different things,” said Zimmerman. “A lot of the middle school kids have cell phones and we don't know what they're looking at. That kind of raises a red flag because you don't know what they are seeing, especially when you see these type of challenges that kids are dying from. I don't want them to see stuff like that.”

Latrice Williams is a general assignment reporter covering Bryan and Effingham County. She can be reached at lwilliams6@gannett.com.

This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: As the school year kicks off in Bryan County, here are three concerns shared by parents


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