‘In 2017, bullying is present in every school’

Published 4:59 pm Sunday, December 3, 2017

Bullying has potential to affect students in different ways

Editor’s note: This is the first of a four-part series, “Breaking Down Bullying,” published Mondays over the next four weeks.

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It came onto his mother’s radar when he was in fifth and sixth grade.

Cindy Gould said she worked hard at making sure her son and daughter weren’t dependent on other people, especially for their value. She said this may have played into the ways her children interacted socially at school.

“I guess in many ways, we had kind of isolated them from the start,” she said.

It was in sixth grade that Daniel Gould said he was most vocal about the name-calling he said he experienced from some other students at Hollandale Christian School. He heard “idiot.” Cindy Gould said the one her son mentioned to her the most was “crabby.” Daniel Gould remembered that one, too.

They spoke to a teacher at the school in the sixth grade.

“We thought we had dealt with it,” the mother said. In seventh grade, she said Daniel Gould had stopped talking about it. She and her husband thought things still weren’t great, but that it wasn’t as bad as it had been for their son at school.

She thought that until a Tuesday.

Bullying in schools

Bullying touches students in schools all across the nation. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics in 2016, 20.8 percent of students report being bullied. This is down from 28 percent in 2005, when the federal government began collecting data on bullying in schools.

Alden-Conger middle school and high school Principal Paul Ragatz said there are difficulties schools face in dealing with bullying. He spoke specifically in the context of Alden-Conger.

“The less overt name-calling, rumor-spreading, insidious attacks on an individual’s self-esteem, often by a small group against an individual, spreads the blame instead of being just one bully, (and) makes it harder to prove and eliminate,” Ragatz said via email.

The school also struggles to help students who don’t come forward.

“One of our hardest problems is when students do not advocate for themselves or tell somebody until it really affects them,” Ragatz said.

The necessary action on issues of bullying from Glenville-Emmons superintendent Jerry Reshetar’s perspective involves addressing the student accused of bullying directly.

“A lot of times, it’s just a matter of looking a student in the eye and saying, ‘Can you stop this?’” Reshetar said.

Withdrawn and angry

Around the seventh grade, Cindy Gould said she started to notice a change in her son’s attitude.

“At that point, his attitude was clearly changing,” the mother said.

She said he was more withdrawn and angry. She said he would say things that concerned her — things about wanting his life to be over.

Her response, Cindy Gould said, was to try to get him to talk to her and to be supportive of his involvement in school. He was a swimmer.

According to Daniel Gould, the students bullying him knew they could get a reaction out of him if they pushed hard enough. At a small school, he said he didn’t feel like there was anywhere he could hide.

“They insisted that I was always angry,” he said. “Always.”

Hence, the name “crabby.”

“My experience is that often the problem isn’t whether or not they believe it,” he said. “But the second that you start to believe that they might be right is when it really starts to get to a person.”

He reacted.

“The exact thing that I said was, ‘If I had a gun, I would shoot you’ to my antagonist,” Daniel Gould said.

That was the Tuesday.

Showing up

Of the cases that Albert Lea truancy officer Alex Routh has worked with over the past 2 1/2  years, he estimated about 25 percent of those cases involved some sort of bullying reported to him.

Routh said right now, he’s working with approximately 30 or 35 students, and toward the end of the year, it may be closer to 40. There is also another truancy officer who works with a similar amount of students.

Twenty-five percent of Routh’s caseload lands between seven and 10 students. Routh suspects there may be more cases in which bullying could be a factor.

“Twenty-five percent involves some sort of bullying that’s reported to me, but there’s also the bullying that doesn’t get reported,” Routh said.

Ragatz said that students who have not spoken to their parents, teachers, counselors or administration about being bullied have been known to tell parents they are sick when the real reason they want to stay home is bullying. In the times students do tell their parents they do not want to go to school because of bullying, Ragatz said it usually leads to a call from the parent and an investigation by the school.

But Routh said there’s more nuance to how bullying affects truancy.

“Of the ones that I was looking at, yes, there was some bullying going on, but there were other factors that were continuing,” he said.

Additionally, Routh said there are the students who are genuinely concerned about going to school, and also students who use bullying as an excuse not to go to school.

According to Routh, the two truancy officers work closely with the school, meeting weekly or biweekly to go over attendance and who may be at risk. Truancy issues do have effects after high school, Routh said.

“Your attendance throughout school can dictate or show or illustrate (what) your attendance is going to be like in the workforce,” Routh said. “If you’re not going to school, doing what you need to do, how do you turn that around in the work world?”


Cindy Gould said she was the first to suggest a temporary suspension for Daniel Gould when she sat down with the principal the Wednesday morning after the incident.

“He was in tears,” Cindy Gould said of her son. “He was just very upset. … He didn’t want to stay in school.”

But for that day, she wanted him there.

“I just said, ‘I really just think he’s got to stay there,’” she said. “He’s got to face it.”

After a few days of back and forth with the school administration, she said Daniel Gould was suspended until the school board could meet to decide whether to let him return to Hollandale Christian School. Both mother and son said Daniel Gould did weekly counseling sessions with his pastor for the rest of the year. 

The solution the school board and Daniel Gould’s parents agreed to was a suspension through the end of the school year, and to find an alternate school for his eighth-grade year, Cindy Gould said. She said the school provided materials for the rest of the year and offered him a one-hour weekly tutoring session. She said her son kept his grades up.

“Honestly, if it hadn’t been for this incident, I probably wouldn’t have a bad thing to say about this school,” Cindy Gould said.

She said it educated her two children well. But, she said she wishes the school would have done things differently, and she felt she and her husband didn’t get a chance to discuss the situation or other options with the school board in an open way because attorneys were involved.

“I don’t want this to reflect badly on the school,” she said. “I wish we could have dealt with this in a much more Christian way.”

Hollandale Christian School Administrator Enno Haan could not confirm the actions of Daniel Gould or the school board, because he was not school administrator at the time of the incident and does not have access to associated records. Currently, Hollandale Christian School’s policy is influenced by bullying policy guidelines set forward by Christian Schools International. The school’s current policy was put in place in 2011, a few years after Daniel Gould attended.

According to Haan, the current policy has three types of incidents at school that would go before the school board executive committee for review: verbal assaults, verbally abusive behavior, and physical or verbal threats of harm with intent to cause fear or ability to carry the threat out. Actions the school board is able to take include warnings, suspensions or expulsions.

Fight or flight

“In 2017, bullying is present in every school,” Ragatz said.

When Ragatz can prove a student has engaged in bullying behavior, that student receives a consequence and his or her parents are called. Students who reciprocate are also reported and sometimes disciplined for their behavior. Ragatz said this can happen with students who are bullied over a long period of time.

Both Ragatz and Reshetar said being in a small school can be helpful in keeping bullying incidents to a minimum.

“You can’t hide much here,” Reshetar said of Glenville-Emmons. He said the school’s size enables it to take quick action, keeping the effects of bullying low.

Ragatz also cited a smaller student-to-administrator ratio.

“It is more difficult for the bully to get away with the bullying because there are minimal reports and the number of investigations are not overwhelming,” Ragatz said. “Because I receive all the official and unofficial bullying reports for sixth- through 12th-graders, I know there is some impact on some students at Alden-Conger. But overall, bullying is not a consistent problem for the students or the school.”

Albert Lea Area Schools Superintendent Mike Funk said the difference in the ways larger schools and smaller schools are able to address bullying is not necessarily about being able to spot disciplinary problems, but instead may come down to a teacher’s ability to build relationships with his or her students. It may be more difficult for a teacher in a classroom of 30 children to build a relationship with every student than a classroom with 12 students.

Routh has seen students transfer schools both ways — into and out of Alden-Conger. With a bigger high school, there can be a bigger blend of different personalities, he said.

Ragatz does not do the admission interviews for open-enrolled transfers, but has been informed that one reason given for transferring in is bullying at other schools. He said there is also a small number of students transferring from Alden-Conger for bullying, as well.

“Unfortunately, they often tell me of the bullying for the first time only after they have made up their minds to transfer,” Ragatz said.

But transferring might not always work out.

“Because 51 percent of our student population is open-enrolled, they bring a different experience and background concerning bullying,” Ragatz said. “On some occasions, the victim transfers to escape the bully only to find the bully has followed them by open-enrolling to our school.”

Reshetar said if administrators can work with students as issues occur, hopefully it does not follow the student. However, he said this is not necessarily the case.

“This stuff’s never going to go away, because we’re people,” Reshetar said.

Situations of bullying are one of the areas in which Reshetar said the public school’s role moves beyond academics and into life skills, or “soft skills” that are helpful for people in preventing, handling and resolving conflict.

“Those are the tough skills to learn, but so beyond reading, writing, arithmetic,” Reshetar said.


Daniel Gould did his eighth-grade year online through Connections Academy. Both he and his mother said there were rumors. Cindy Gould said he did not take them to the administrators. She credited his year of online schooling and his counseling with his pastor for helping him handle those situations.

“I think between those two things, he was able to heal enough and gain enough self-respect and self-worth that, you know, he could just laugh it off,” Cindy Gould said. “It wasn’t something that he allowed to bother him anymore.”

After graduating from Albert Lea High School in 2014, Daniel Gould said he took a year off and then joined the Navy. He joined because he wanted to be a part of its nuclear program, but was not accepted. Daniel and Cindy Gould said it was because of his record from the seventh grade. Instead, he worked for the Navy as a diesel technician until December 2016, when he was released on a medical discharge.

Now, Daniel Gould said he is working and taking it day by day.

Seventh grade was eight years ago.

“I was very specific with the words that I chose, and that’s because I wanted them to feel some of the pain that I felt,” he said. “Did I communicate that well? No. I’m more than willing to admit that I share some of the blame. I did not communicate my feelings and my hurt well at all. But I don’t regret saying what I did. I don’t feel bad for saying what I did. Because I meant it. It was every fiber of my being.”

The way he explained it to his mother, she said, was, “‘I want them to hurt the way I’m hurting.’”

“And I think he still does, in some respects,” Cindy Gould said.

But they’ve moved on, she said.

Does Daniel Gould feel like he’s moved on?

“In a lot of ways, yes, and in a handful of others, it’s — it can be very difficult to let go of that pain when it’s grown to be a part of you,” he said.

Daniel Gould said if he went back to seventh grade, he wouldn’t handle the bullying the same way again.

“Through those experiences, I’ve developed a rather thick skin,” Daniel Gould said. “I would probably use a handful of expletives and tell them where they could stick it, and move on with my life.”

About Sarah Kocher

Sarah covers education and arts and culture for the Tribune.

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