Meigs County father Rob Scribner said that he and his wife realized something was wrong when their 12-year-old daughter decided “out of the blue” to stop playing on the volleyball team at Alexander Junior High School during the 2017-2018 school year.
“If you looked at her Facebook page, you could see that that was her passion,” he recalled.
Scribner said in an interview on July 1 that he learned that his daughter Jaden was being bullied by some students at school shortly after she quit the team. Months later, shortly before her 13th birthday, Scribner took her own life. This was after Scribner and his wife took Jaden out of school, began homeschooling her, and got her into counseling.
Scribner said the alleged bullying profoundly affected Jaden. He said that among other incidents Jaden had related to her parents, some classmates at school allegedly would lock her away in the bathroom or in a classroom and taunt her; other times, they would throw things at her. Then, when she got home from school, she was bullied online even further via social media, Scribner alleged.
“We just didn’t really have a clue about the social-media aspect of it,” he said.
Scriber and his wife reported the alleged bullying to the Junior High School, and said Jaden and her parents also spoke with the school counselor multiple times. Despite that, he doesn’t think an official report on the reported bullying was ever filed at the school.
Alexander Local School District Supt. Lindy Douglas said in an email last week that the district had a total of three incidences of bullying reported at the Jr./Sr. High School during the 2017-2018 school year.
Douglas provided public records in response to an Athens NEWS records request; the records also showed one alleged case of bullying at the Elementary School. All of the Alexander schools are located in one building complex near Albany.
The superintendent noted that Jaden was not a student at the time of her death, adding that she was no longer enrolled as of Nov. 30, 2017.
“We work hard to educate and promote a safe learning environment,” Douglas said. “Currently, we offer the Anti-Bullying Pledge for students grades 6-12. Counselors work with students to understand bullying and to become proactive against bullying. This topic is discussed in Life Skills classes in junior high and then again in high school during Health classes. This is also part of our wellness programs.”
JADEN’S FAMILY HAS STARTED a foundation in her name, called Forever Jaden, with the goal of stamping out bullying and lessening the impact it has on young children like Jaden, though that foundation is still in its infancy. Scribner said he hopes the foundation can fund some kind of support system or other services for families in the Albany area whose children are being bullied.
“Everyone loved Jaden,” Scribner recalled. “She would do anything for you; she was really caring… Whenever I was having a bad day, she’d always be there with her smile.”
Scribner said he and the foundation are currently researching online programs that could help parents and students in Alexander Local Schools, and potentially other school districts, report bullying and other such incidents anonymously.
Scribner said he hopes that the Alexander Local School Board will look into implementing such a program on Alexander’s website. He cited one program that could potentially help, called Safety Tipline Online Prevention, or S.T.O.P., which has already been implemented in Kentucky’s public schools.
Scribner added that he’s thankful for how supportive the community has been in the time since Jaden passed. He said a volleyball tournament fundraiser helped raise money for the foundation last year, for example. There’s also a GoFundMe for the foundation located at https://www.gofundme.com/forever-jaden.
Scribner said parents need to be aware that the tragedy his family suffered could happen to them. According to a 2017 federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, suicide is the second-leading cause of death for middle- and high-school-aged people (between ages 12 and 18).
“No parents think that this could happen to them,” he said.
Scribner encouraged parents to talk to their children about bullying from an early age, and to listen to them and support them when they say they’ve been bullied at school.
“We encourage parents to talk to their children about our tragedy,” Scribner said on the GoFundMe page. “Remind your kids that words do hurt. We encourage kids to love one another and build each other up. Think about what you say and its potential effects on those around you. If you see someone being mistreated or bullied, please tell an adult or reach out to someone, go out of your way to be kind to them.”
ROB SCRIBNER SAID DURING a follow-up interview this week that he believes that bullying is a bigger issue at schools than most U.S. educators will admit. He said that that’s definitely the case at Alexander.
“There’s a lot more bullying going on over there than what they say,” he asserted. “There’s definitely some people over there that get preferred treatment.”
One part of the issue may also be the way in which Alexander tallies its disciplinary records of students. Douglas provided The NEWS with public records showing the date, time and general description of all disciplinary referrals for Alexander Jr./Sr. High School and Alexander Elementary School students from Jan. 1, 2017, to the end of this most recent school year.
The Jr./Sr. High School report shows roughly 850 disciplinary incidents spread out among 327 students and 34 different types of “events,” ranging from bullying to insubordination to “horseplay.” The “bullying” category only listed three such incidences during that two-year time period (that’s despite Douglas citing three bullying incidents in the 2017-2018 year in her email). However, The NEWS analyzed these records and found multiple other incidences that could be classified under the umbrella of “bullying.” It’s important to keep in mind that the report only lists brief one- to two-sentence descriptions of the alleged behavior, so it’s hard to assess the seriousness of each incident, or if it did in fact constitute bullying. Still, here are some examples of what teachers and administrators reported just in the last two school years:
• Under the category of “inappropriate bus conduct,” staff reported multiple students, one of them for “racists words on the bus,” another for “hitting kids on the bus,” another for “bully type behavior on the bus,” and another for “throwing a personal item of a student out of the bus.”
• Under the category of “persistent minor disturbance,” one student was reported for throwing hot glue on a student “three times at least” and hitting him on the neck. Another student was reported for hitting a student in the head with a Rubix cube. There was another report of a student with “racist marks on his hand (KKK),”
• Under the category of “fighting,” there were five reports of students “hitting another student,” one report of a student “assaulting a student, hitting her in the face,” another report of an “assault of a student,” another report of “hitting other students for no reason,” and one report of a student “choking another student in anger.”
• Under the category of “fighting, violence,” one report mentions a student “picking on another student.” Another report mentions one student hitting another during a DARE trip.
• Under the category of “harassment,” there were three general reports of “sexual harassment,” one report of “inappropriate racial comments on the bus,” and one report of a student who “smacked a girl’s butt.”
• Under the category of “miscellaneous,” there was one report of a student hitting another student in the face with a Chromebook,” one report of “racist remarks to a student,” and
another report of “distributing inappropriate photo from Snapchat to three boys.”
• Under the category of “unwelcome sexual conduct,” there were five reports of “inappropriate sexual touching.” There was also a report of “sexting and insubordination” on March 26, 2019
FOR SOME of the incidents involving gender-based harassment or sexual misconduct, it’s not clear which of the cases were ever investigated through the required federal Title IX investigation process. Douglas said three complaints of sexual harassment were investigated by the School District through its Title IX process during that time. She said the School District conducted “one formal and two informal” investigations into those complaints, “as elected by complainants.”