Government reporting systems on bullying don't apply to private - FOX 10 News | fox10phoenix.com

Government reporting systems on bullying don't apply to private schools

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PHOENIX (KSAZ) - School bullying has been a subject on the front burner for a while, especially after bullying allegedly led to a string of school shootings across the country.

State and federal governments have put reporting systems in place to get a handle on bullying, but as one Phoenix mother found out, if you have your child enrolled in a private school, those rules don’t apply.

Dominique Rivas has a daughter, Julia, enrolled in St. Agnes School in Phoenix, a Catholic private school.  And Dominique Rivas says her daughter has been a victim of bullies since last year. 

“It started with a little girl who had drawn pictures of Julia on the sidewalk with chalk describing her and showing her as a heavy child as opposed to the other kids that were in the classroom,” Dominique Rivas said.

Rivas said her daughter’s migraine medication caused her to gain weight.

“It’s hard really it’s hard to see them do this to me,” Julia said, “Because I think of these girls as my family.”

Other incidents followed.  One occurred at an off-campus slumber party. 

“As she goes to the sleepover her underwear fell out of her bag,” said Rivas.  “And when Julia fell asleep, they get her underwear, soak them in water and freeze them and then they put them out for everyone to see.”

“My heart really did hurt that day to feel that and they actually did freeze my underwear, “Julia said.  “I didn’t think that was right at all.”

Months after reporting the first alleged bullying to the teacher and the school principal, Rivas was given reporting forms by the school.

Rivas said, “We were never told that this form through the diocese existed.”

Rivas filled out 11 of them, saying all were alleged bullying incidents since March of last year.

“We try to make sure that all students have a safe and secure atmosphere,” said Denise Campbell, the principal at St. Agnes.

FOX 10 news asked Campbell, and Father Bradley Peterson, the school’s pastor, about the alleged bullying reports.

Father Peterson said, “We have an anti-bullying policy that investigates complaints and take disciplinary action if it’s warranted.”

They said all of the reports from Dominique Rivas were investigated, including the slumber party.

Campbell said, “She (Julia Rivas) wasn’t the only one with something frozen.”

As for the other complaints, “The other incidents were dealt with at that time and dealt with appropriately.” Campbell said.

Father Bradley Peterson said of the incidents, “They did not intend to bully or do something bad to Julia.”

Jennifer Liewer of the Arizona Department of Education said, “No child should have to fear for going to school or not want to go to school because of how they are being treated.”

Liewer pointed out that the Arizona Department of Education does not regulate private schools like St. Agnes because it’s a private Catholic school.

“Private schools are separate from that because they are not supported by taxpayer dollars,” she said.

According to Liewer, at a private school, it’s the parent who has all the responsibility.  “It’s upon the parent to ensure that their child is in the best environment possible, “she said.

Rivas said that, “Even though I submitted the incidents, to this date not all of them have been addressed.”

After submitting the bullying report forms to the school, Rivas received a letter from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, asking her to voluntarily remove Julia from St. Agnes, if the family couldn’t support the school.

“It asks them to adhere to the polices of the school or voluntarily withdraw,” Father Bradley said.

When the Rivas refused to withdraw Julia, both Dominique and her husband Vincent were asked to sign a form which allowed Julia to finish the 4th grade if her mother stayed off campus.

“My daughter is a child of God and she deserves an apology,” said Dominique Rivas.

They refused to sign the document and Dominique recorded this exchange between them and father Bradley:

Dominique Rivas:  “So, no.  As of right now we are not signing this.”
Father Bradley:  “You are refusing to sing it?”
Dominique Rivas:   “Yes we are refusing to sign it.”
Vincent Rivas:  “No. We are not signing anything this is ridiculous.”
Dominque Rivas:  “We are not signing anything.”
Father Bradley:  “Okay.  Why don't you take Julia home today?”

After the meeting, Dominique told her daughter they had to go home.

Dominique Rivas:  “They are not going to let you go back to school.”
Julia Rivas:  “What did I do?”
Dominique Rivas:  “You didn't do anything it’s not your fault.”
Vincent Rivas:  “It's not your fault.”
Dominique Rivas:  “It's okay.  Don’t start crying honey, it’s going to be okay.”

Dominique Rivas said that “Every child deserves to be protected.”

Later, the family and St. Agnes reached an agreement allowing Julia to finish the school year, even though no one seems satisfied with what’s happened.

Not even Julia, who told us, “I do forgive them, but I have not actually received an apology and I would love to receive that just so we can become friends again.”

Her mother says that during a recent assembly, a school administrator compared the negative publicity generated by Julia’s story to the Boston Marathon Bombing, saying the school had to stay “St. Agnes strong.”

Julia will be attending the Arizona School for the Arts next fall.
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