Lebanon, Pennsylvania, USA: Northern Lebanon School District students are required to smile while walking the hallways between classes, while bullying incidents are being ignored by administrators, according to some parents and teachers.
Students who don’t have a smile on their face while in the hallways between classes are told to either smile or go see a guidance counselor to discuss their problems.
Fifteen-year-old Julianna Gundrum, a student at the school district, said if you didn’t smile there would be consequences. Julianna Gundrum’s mother, Jean Gundrum, has since pulled her from the school and has enrolled her in the district’s cyber school program.
“If you don’t (smile) you get called to the office or down to see your guidance counselor,” she said. “You have to talk about your problems then. You have to or you get detention.”
Even though smiling in the hallways is not a written rule at the school district, it is something that Assistant High School Principal Benjamin Wenger has taken upon himself to enforce, according to several teachers. The teachers who spoke to Lebanon Daily News asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation from the school district.
While Wenger – who has been accused of throwing around a sex toy in the office during school hours (along with High School Principal Jennifer Hassler and Middle School Principal Brad Reist) – may care about whether or not students are smiling between classes, parents and teachers have bigger concerns. Both say Wenger and his fellow administrators don’t care enough about the bullying and harassment taking place in the school district. Teachers are aware that a child without a smile in the hall can be sent to the guidance counselor.
Despite no written rule on smiling in the hallway, there is written policy regarding bullying. State law required schools to adopt an anti-bullying policy by Jan. 1, 2009.
“Any staff member who receives a bullying complaint shall gather information or
seek administrative assistance to determine if bullying has occurred,” school board policy 249 says. “If the behavior is found to meet the definition of bullying, the building principal must complete the appropriate written documentation. The building principal or his/her designee will inform the parents or guardians of the victim and also the parents or guardians of the accused.”
Any bullying incident that is reported in the school district is taken seriously, according to Superintendent Erik Bentzel.
“We fully investigate every report of bullying,” he said. “But, we can’t tell (both sets of parents) about the consequences – I can’t talk to (a parent) about another (parent’s) child.”
Jean Gundrum’s 14-year-old daughter, Adreanna, was being bullied as soon as the 2017-18 school year began. The Gundrum children attended North Lebanon previously, moved to Florida for a year, and then returned here.
“When we moved back from Florida it was the summer (High School Principal Jennifer) Hassler started,” Jean Gundrum said. “The first thing we started to deal with right out of the gate as soon as school started was the bullying. It was bad with Adreanna. First it was on social media then it rolled over into school.”
The girls who were doing the bullying were students that Adreanna knew since they were all in the 3rd Grade together.
Adreanna would call her mother in the middle of the day asking her to pick her up from school early because the bullying had become that bad. Gundrum told her daughter she should report the bullying to a teacher, guidance counselor or principal.
“The bullying calmed down for a little while (after that), so we thought maybe it stopped,” Jean Gundrum said.
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Adreanna Gundrum was on the school’s cheerleading squad at the time the bullying was going on, and while Jean Gundrum thought the bullying had subsided, it escalated again after a fall football game.
“We went to a football game and Adreanna was with her dad, and these other girls basically attacked her at the football game,” Jean Gundrum said. “Lucky for us some state troopers were standing there. (The girls) didn’t get too physical. It was a shoulder nudge and then they yelled at her.”
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Adreanna Gundrum ran away from the girls down a hill, but they followed her.
“My husband chased the girls down the hill and the troopers got the girls at the (bottom) of the hill,” Jean Gundrum said. “The school resource officer was there, and we thought, ‘Okay, it is on record now, so now the school will do something.’”
But nothing was done, according to Jean Gundrum. Instead, Hassler pulled Adreanna Gundrum into the office.
“She said I was the problem and I should start being the solution,” Adreanna Gundrum said.
“It was never dealt with again,” Jean Gundrum said. “I called in every day for a long time because every day these girls did something different. I was told (by school administrators) I wasn’t allowed to reach out to their parents, but I did anyway.”
Some of the parents whose daughters were involved in bullying Adreanna Gundrum told Jean Gundrum they would handle the situation with their children.
“We still don’t know (why they were bullying Adreanna),” Gundrum said. “They called her a whore (and other names). They hacked her social media and would message other people. They would shoulder nudge her as she was walking down the hall. They never gave a reason.”
Instead of addressing the bullying with the students involved, Hassler pointed her finger at Jean Gundrum, Gundrum said.
“Principal Hassler actually told me that maybe I need to raise my children better and that she felt my daughter was the bully. She asked if I was sure that it’s not my daughter causing the issue,” she said. “The girls picking on her were about double her size and it was about five girls on her.”
Against her mother’s wishes, Adreanna wrote to the girls who were bullying her.
“She said, ‘Whatever I did I’m sorry. Can we just stop this?’” Jean Gundrum said.
After Adreanna wrote the apology letter, Gundrum reached out to Hassler again.
“I said, ‘She apologized and she doesn’t even know what she did, so can we just get them to stop?’” Gundrum said.
Jean Gundrum met with Hassler and the school resource officer, Michael Koval.
“The resource officer said, ‘We need to handle this. This can’t go on anymore,’” Gundrum said. “Principal Hassler interrupted him and said, ‘We are not punishing anybody. Can’t you just see if you can get over it. We need to teach our children to be the solution and not the problem.’”
That was the end of the meeting and Jean Gundrum said she didn’t talk to Hassler about it again.
“I told my daughter, ‘If they touch you again you can handle it on your own now,’” she said. “That was how we had to handle it because there was nothing else we could do.”
Gundrum mentioned two other parents who had similar stories – one whose son was beat up by two girls and another with two children who were harassed because of their race. Hassler would not handle either of those situations either, according to Gundrum.
Bullying is not being dealt with properly at the school district, according to the teachers who spoke anonymously with Lebanon Daily News reporters.
The teachers said they have each submitted multiple disciplinary referrals this school year. Their experience is for every five referrals, one is addressed. Some of the teachers, who said they are supposed to receive written notification from the administration that a disciplinary problem was addressed, said they submitted referrals for multiple instances of bullying, but none were addressed.
Teachers also claimed that administrators will discipline any student who questioned the principal’s authority. If a student says anything to Hassler – if they question her or stand up to her – she will discipline them. The administrators will pick on minor details with some students – minor dress code violations, for example – but completely ignore bullying incidents, according to the teachers.
During a May 8 school board meeting, one student who stood up during a public comment period to speak out in defense of Hassler, Wenger and Reist, also mentioned the bullying problem.
“There are bigger issues in our school than what (the principals) did,” 11th grade student Mark Tinto Jr. said. “There are students getting bullied, and they are trying to improve that with the new campus model.”
At the same meeting, Wendy Gerber, a Northern Lebanon School District resident who has children which do not attend school in the school district, said she heard that the sex toy the principals were tossing around was used for hazing.
“Who was investigating this hazing incident?” she asked. “When I heard there was hazing on children – little boys being made to do vulgar, vile things (to this toy) – I reached for a barf bag. I don’t care what you people were doing, but I hate that little boys were pressured to do vile and vulgar things in this school building.”
Just as with bullying, sexual harassment among students was also ignored, according to the teachers who spoke anonymously with Lebanon Daily News reporters.
They mentioned three different parents who told stories about their daughters being sexually harassed, and they said that Hassler asked each of the girls the same question: “What can you do to be less of the problem and more of the solution?”
One girl was touched on her bu*****s by another student and it made her feel uncomfortable, according to one parent, who wished to remain anonymous so their daughter would not be singled out.
Her parents told her to tell the principal, but when she did so Hassler told the student she should get a tighter sports bra and stop wearing jeggings, the parent said. Hassler told her she should be part of the solution and not part of the problem. The girl was 12 at the time of the incident.
The girl’s parents managed to get in touch with the parents of the student who touched her, and both sides were able to get some closure by talking to one another without the involvement of the school district, one of the girl’s parents said.
This story is part of a series of stories regarding problems children, parents and teachers have brought up regarding Northern Lebanon School District, including issues that are governed by Pennsylvania law regarding mandatory reporting of some types of incidents.
Source(s): Lebanon Daily News