Florida Families, Florida Citizens Alliance, Naples, FL

Hope to Help Florida’s Families

Hope to Help Florida’s Families

*a parent in northern Florida who experienced a case of extreme bullying told us her story…For the sake of keeping this parent and her daughter protected, their names have been changed to keep their identities anonymous.

By Cassie Moran

Date: Dec. 30, 2020

Anna was a perfect daughter: happy, friendly, ambitious, and hardworking. She got great grades and wanted to become a pediatrician. She had friends at school, around town, and in her neighborhood. And Lisa was everything a parent should be: dedicated, involved, and deeply loving. And yet, one day everything came crashing down.

During Anna’s upbringing, she experienced many forms of schooling, but was primarily homeschooled. It wasn’t until highschool that she transitioned into the Florida public school system. Lisa had heard stories from her friends whose kids went to public school and hoped to keep her daughter out of that environment, saying, “I never had a lot of money, but I busted my butt to keep her out of public school until high school.” Despite Lisa’s apprehension, the first three years started off great for Anna. She succeeded academically, had many friends, and enjoyed the school. But partway through Anna’s junior year, an incident occurred that changed everything.

The day before Christmas break, Anna went to her friend’s house to meet his new puppy. What should have been a pleasant afternoon, turned dark. He proceeded to force himself upon her and raped her. Over Christmas break, Lisa noticed a change in Anna, but attributed it to teenage mood swings. It wasn’t until Lisa heard Anna crying in her room a month later that Anna broke down and shared what had happened. Not only had this horrific assault been grieving her, but the boy had been texting her, saying, “You liked it, you wanted it, come back for more.” He told his friends, who started harassing her as well on various social media platforms. She couldn’t escape it. Eventually, Lisa took Anna’s phone away to give her some relief from the bombardment. At school, although she didn’t have any classes with him, the torment did not end. Her peers snickered and pointed at her everywhere she went. She was shoved into lockers, pushed into the garbage can, and even trapped in a bathroom stall. The bullying was extreme, online and in-person.

It wasn’t until Lisa heard Anna crying in her room a month later that Anna broke down and shared what had happened.

When Lisa found out, she took immediate action. She called the boy’s parents, who simply denied it. She informed the school and they began an investigation with the sheriff, but nothing came of it. Due to Covid, things slowed down and Lisa repeatedly tried to follow up to no avail. She was not even informed when the case had been dropped due to its “he said/she said” nature. Because of this, the school claimed there was nothing they could do. They reasoned that Anna did not have any classes with him, so it should not be a problem. The assistant principal even claimed to have seen Anna smiling and laughing as she walked down the hall, so she assumed that Anna must be fine. Anna had a great relationship with the assistant principal, had a flawless behavioral and academic record, yet, nothing was done to protect her. Despite the boy’s marred record, including drug use, suspension, and hanging out with the wrong crowd, Anna’s problem was left unresolved. Lisa lamented, “At one time, she loved it (the school), and it was so welcoming, and then they just turned on her. And I hated that. It’s just not fair.”

Lisa noted that Anna had become a totally different person. She would cry in the morning, begging her mom not to make her go to school, and would come home from school crying as well. Many times, Lisa called her daughter in sick, and Anna’s grades started to drop.

Anna had friends at a different school nearby, a highly rated school, and begged her mom to transfer, but Lisa knew they lived in the wrong zip code. Lisa and her fiance were renting a house that they planned to buy, but as Lisa said, “We don’t have a lot of money, but that’s what you do, you make sacrifices for your child, for your family.” And so the family up and moved to a new district, one where the rent was much higher. It is not quite typical for a student to transfer schools in the middle of their senior year, and so when Lisa brought the paperwork in to the registrar of Anna’s new school, she had to explain the whole situation. The immediate response she received was: “Well, didn’t they tell you about the Hope Scholarship?”

In fact, Lisa had never been informed of the Hope ScholarshipThis scholarship would allow her to send her daughter to a different school, and a healthy learning environment. Lisa promptly researched the Hope Scholarship and found that it most certainly would have applied to Anna’s situation. Thankfully, Anna is now thriving at her new school. Yet there should have been an easier way. Families should not have to move in order to protect their children from bullying. That is why the Hope Scholarship exists- to provide relief and assistance to families who simply want their child to be able to learn and grow in a safe environment. The Hope Scholarship is worthwhile, whether it serves one child or one thousand children, but it is doubtful that it is currently serving as many students as it has the potential to. The Hope Scholarship was established in 2018 and 371 students had taken advantage of it as of February 2020.With over 20% of K-12 students being bullied, this scholarship can certainly help more families. As Florida Citizens Alliance has found out, teachers and administrators have not been properly trained on the extreme value of the Hope Scholarship. This means that parents are not being told what their options are.  As Lisa stated, “I thought I was informed, but I don’t think a lot of people know about this.”

Lisa and Anna’s story is one of heartbreak and injustice, but there is hope. Parents, heed Lisa’s advice: “Pay attention to your kid and look at their phones, look at the texts… Talk to them, engage with them, ask them more questions.” Be your child’s advocate. Be an advocate for the safety and wellbeing of all children. Share the news of the Hope Scholarship, because even if your child does not need it, somebody’s child does.

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