Family: Blind, special-needs student bullied at high school

Posted at 1:47 PM, Sep 27, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-27 15:47:59-04

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    WALNUT COVE, N.C. (WXII) — Cellphone cameras were rolling as a South Stokes High School sophomore student was bullied Tuesday, the victim’s family says. The district says it has launched an investigation.

According to Donnie Morton, 17-year-old Michael Wishon’s uncle, Wishon had his cellphone removed from his backpack and smashed with a brick while in a masonry class.

Morton says Michael is legally blind. Morton says after the students broke Michael’s phone, they taunted and laughed at him while continuing to record.

Also in the video is a copy of what appears to be a discipline referral. It lists the offense as “inappropriate behavior,” more specifically: “broke another student’s cell phone.” It also says the student received in-school suspension for one day.

The referral says it was an action taken by Johnna Cheek, the school’s principal. It also states a parent was contacted.

School district leaders say disciplinary action was taken following the incident and further disciplinary action was taken once the video was released on social media.

“There is a perception out there that we did not handle the situation. Yesterday, the video was not present. When the principal was dealt the information, she dealt with the information based on the students’ recollection of what happened, talked to the other student who broke the phone and talked to the people who actually owned the phone and so it was not the student’s phone who got broke, it was another student’s phone that got broke. The principal handled the situation, talked to all of the parents involved and they were happy with the resolution. Then, overnight the video was posted on Facebook on some point last night or this morning. When that came to our attention, it came to my attention first. I shared that with the principal and then she came back to school, reopened the investigation and handled it appropriately. Additional discipline consequences per the handbook based on the new information and law enforcement was also contacted, again, based on the new information,” said Superintendent Dr. Brad Rice.

“Stokes County Schools and South Stokes High School care very much about our students. We take all allegations of bullying very seriously. They’re not always the easiest things to prove and just like in a court of law, we have to give due process and try to handle those situations. We investigate every allegation and that was happening today as well. As soon as we got the additional information, we handled it and administered additional discipline and contacted law enforcement.

“I spoke again to the parent of the child who was in the video today. She again expressed that she was happy with the principal’s investigation, she was happy with law enforcement’s investigation and she was happy that I followed up as well. I also, again, talked to the dad who owns the phone that got damaged this evening and he said that he believes that everything was handled appropriately. Again, I conducted a full investigation and the principal has and we’re satisfied that we followed the handbook and handled this situation appropriately at this time.”

Family members say Wishon traded another student for the phone so it is technically Michael’s.

“This breaks my heart. It was Michael’s birthday,” said Morton. “The school board has a policy in place for bullying and it is not enforced. I seen the video and I automatically went from 0 to 100 real quick. It’s to the point where you have to worry about your property being taken out of your book bag and broken, and then taunting your child.”

In the district’s policy, it states: “The board will not tolerate any form of unlawful discrimination, harassment, or bullying in any of its educational or employment activities or programs. Any violation of this policy will be considered serious and school officials shall promptly take appropriate action to address the violation.”

Morton says Michael’s father is terminally ill and bullying is the last thing that Michael should deal with.

“They go through so much and they don’t need this kind of pressure on them. This could cause kids to have suicidal thoughts and no one wants that. No one wants to see any child get taken advantage of,” said Morton.

Also in the video, the instructor is heard saying: “Michael, I am going to tell you how to feel about the phone. You’re not supposed to have it out in class. If it’s in your pocket or book bag, it would have never gotten broke.”

“The masonry class is a larger room. The teacher was not fully aware of what was going on and heard that a phone got broke in the class. That was an initial response that, ‘If you wouldn’t have had it out it wouldn’t have gotten broken.’ The teacher didn’t know how the phone was broken at that moment based on what’s been reported to me. That teacher has been addressed. We talked to them about investigating matters and that was a knee-jerk reaction from a teacher before an investigation had happened and again, before he knew what had happened to the phone,” Dr. Rice said.

Michael’s family members also say that Tuesday was the latest incident in several consecutive years of bullying by the same group of students.

“I’m shocked. I’m appalled, I don’t know why someone would treat someone this way,” said Morton.

“I don’t feel that anyone should go through this and I think more things need to be done in this school system to make awareness and students and staff need to be more educated, so they can identify bullying within the schools.

“On many nights I’ve gone to his house and Michael has been in there crying because people have bullied him.”

Morton says the family hopes the school district will enact new policies and more bullying awareness programs to hopefully prevent incidents like this from taking place in the future.

The Stokes County Schools System informed the Sheriff’s Office of its investigation and that the Sheriff’s Office is looking into the incident for possible criminal charges.

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