In April, single mother Robina Gibb and her 10-year-old son, John, moved to California. Originally from London, they had lived briefly in Massachusetts before settling in Beverly Hills. But just a few days after starting fifth grade at , John became the victim of bullying.
“They have the power. They could actually stop the bullying completely but they’re not doing it,” John said of El Rodeo administrators in a conversation with Patch at Wednesday's Board of Education meeting. “They’re not doing anything.”
At the meeting, John told Patch that he has been subject to physical intimidation, mental and verbal abuse, and isolation by his peers. He described one incident when a classmate dumped a bag of popcorn on his head. There have also been notes passed to him in which other students write cruel comments and call him derogatory names.
Robina Gibb refers to her son’s school as a “lion’s den.”
“I’m really disappointed,” Gibb said of her son’s experience at El Rodeo. “On the last day of school he was still getting bullied.”
At his previous school in Massachusetts, John said there was a strong anti-bullying policy in place “very much unlike El Rodeo.” About to enter sixth grade, John is unsure whether he wants to return to the school for the next academic year.
“I’d like more discipline,” John said. “I’d like it to be more like [my] last school where it was really anti-bullying.”
His mother has contacted the city’s Parent-Teacher Association leaders, the and the school board to get bullying on the Beverly Hills Unified School District’s radar.
“I’ve been bullied many times,” John said during the public comment portion of the Board of Education meeting. “I don’t find that [administrators] handle it that well because they don’t do much about it. They kind of just say ‘Don’t bully,’ and that’s pretty much it.”
Robina Gibb spoke to the board as well and said that she and her son were “delighted to be in Beverly Hills,” but that John’s experience with bullying has overshadowed his life.
“When he said to me three days ago, ‘You know mom, I really don’t know if I want to go back to school,’ I thought ‘OK, I’ve got to do something about it,’ ” Gibb said to the school board. “El Rodeo has many, many things to offer. The principal did say to John that the door is open for him, but John was going in every day because it was happening every day.”
Gibb also said that the Maple Counseling Center has interns who are available to visit city schools to work on the issue of bullying.
The school board was unable to give an immediate response to the matter because it can address only items on the meeting agenda. But after John and Gibb spoke to the panel, board member Myra Lurie gave Gibb her business card and asked that she contact her to discuss the topic further.
In an email to Patch, Lurie wrote that “bullying is a very serious matter and the issue has become more complicated as technology lends itself to new modes and expanded capabilities.”
However, John said that he doesn’t have a Facebook account like many youth his age in an effort to avoid cyberbullying.
Dr. Alex Cherniss, the district’s assistant superintendent for business services, said the BHUSD has an anti-bullying policy. He said that administrators, teachers and support staff are trained on how to prevent bullying and how to intervene when it occurs. The penalties for bullying can include meetings with parents, detention, suspension and expulsion.
“The severity of the discipline is in line with the severity of the bullying matter,” Cherniss wrote in an email to Patch.
Board Vice President Brian Goldberg also responded to Patch's request for a comment on bullying in Beverly Hills schools.
“The real issue for me is how do we change the culture of bullying and create a bullying-free zone at our schools,” he wrote in an email to Patch. “Children model behavior they see, so if we are going to change the culture it has to be community-wide: parents, staff, administration, community.”