Denice Barnes says her son, Quentin, has been repeatedly bullied at Soquel Union Elementary.
Superintendent Henry Castaniada was one of the school administrators who was suspiciously hard to get a hold of when we needed someone to clarify the Soquel Union Elementary School District’s policy on bullying for our cover story on the topic last month. And yes, we called him out on it a couple of times.
But better late than never, as they say. The story came back on our radar last week after Denice Barnes, the concerned parent who came forward about the bullying of her son at Soquel Union in our story, made a stir once again by calling out Castaniada herself—specifically, on the issue of why he failed to return 24 phone calls last year, or her first five phone calls this year, when her son’s classmates started picking on him. She does, after all, have the phone records to prove it.
We inquired about it, too, and this time Castaniada agreed to meet with us. Soquel Union Elementary School District, it turns out, does have a policy on school bullying, and he says he takes it very seriously.
“Our responsibility is building an environment where kids are feeling safe, feeling protected, feeling they’re in an environment that’s healthy,” Castaniada says.
According to board policy that was last updated in June, district employees “shall establish student safety as a high priority and shall not tolerate bullying of any student.”
The district-wide policy breaks down into a few basic steps—prevention, analysis, an investigation and, if needed, discipline.
The district’s first step, Castaniada says, is rewarding students for positive behavior and encouraging people to step forward if something isn’t right. If an incident arises, the principal must decide whether or not it constitutes bullying. If it does, the school district can launch an investigation, which could ultimately end in discipline, including suspension or expulsion, if necessary.
As for all the phone calls, Castaniada won’t say why it took him so long to call Barnes back.
“I can’t respond to that. I heard her statement,” Castaniada says. “I’m not going to dispute it by any means.”