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Denice Barnes says school administrators have not done enough to combat bullying in schools. A Nov. 7 workshop at Brook Knoll Elementary in Scotts Valley will address the issue. Photo by Chip Scheuer.

Denice Barnes says school administrators have not done enough to combat bullying in schools. A Nov. 7 workshop at Brook Knoll Elementary in Scotts Valley will address the issue. Photo by Chip Scheuer.

In most ways, he’s what you could call a normal kid.

Quentin Barnes enjoys sports like swimming and playing basketball, and has what his mother Denice Barnes calls a “goofy sense of humor.” When the fourth grader grows up, Quentin wants to be part-time professional baseball player and an entomologist. His enthusiasm for biology is already impressive for a nine-year-old.

Denice, 43 years old, says her son was “typically a very happy, easy-going, positive kid.” That’s why she was so worried to find Quentin crying and telling her, “I didn’t do anything wrong. Why do I deserve this?”

Last year, Quentin, one of a handful of African Americans at his school, became a victim of bullying at Soquel Elementary School. Some of his classmates began playing a game they made up called the “Quentin Touch” game. Quentin had the “Quentin Touch,” according to the game. If another student touched him or was touched by him, the other student would get the “Quentin Touch.”

The basic idea comes from the well-known book and movie series The Diary of a Wimpy Kid, in which kids would play “Cheese Touch” and avoid a slice of moldy Swiss cheese on the basketball court. (Paradoxically, the book’s plot intends to parody the mean-spirited games typically found on American playgrounds, not glorify them.)

The “Quentin Touch” game lasted two or three months at first, and didn’t stay in the classroom, Denice says. Her sons’ schoolmates played it on the playground. People in other classes joined in.

After Quentin found out about the game being played behind his back, he told his third grade teacher. Principal Cata Fitzgerald made the students apologize to him and play a game of tetherball together. Denice says Quentin felt humiliated.

Understandably so, says bullying expert Michael Josephson of the Josephson Institute for Youth Ethics.

“Those are totally ancient tactics,” he says. “Forcing the bully to apologize is an absolute ludicrous joke.”

The bully knows the apology is fake, Josephson adds, and so does the victim, who might even decide not to report an incident next time. “The idea of trivializing it—say sorry, shake hands and play tetherball—is baloney,” he says. “It has never worked and will never work.”

Fitzgerald ignored repeated requests to be interviewed for this story about Quentin’s case, and Soquel Elementary policies for dealing with bullying.  

This year, problems have persisted. Denice says a child chased Quentin around the playground, hitting him and trying to knock him down—even encouraging other kids to do the same. Quentin defended himself, striking back, and both kids lost their recess.

Early last month, Quentin found out his classmates started playing “Quentin Touch” again and told his teacher, exactly what the principal had told him to do. According to Denice, the teacher never called her to let her know about the incident. And when Quentin’s dad, who lives in Atlanta, called Fitzgerald’s office to ask about it, he says she denied it and said no one had played the game since last year.

Denice says Fitzgerald scheduled a training session on bullying, but administrators excluded Quentin and at least one other student “because they didn’t want them to feel uncomfortable.”

Denice also says administrators have criticized Quentin for not interacting better with other students. “There’s a preference to blame things on kids,” Denice says. “I’ve been told several times that Quentin needs to improve his social skills.”

 

Pushed Around

Quentin Barnes is not alone.

32 percent of students age 12 to 18 reported being bullied in the 2006-2007 school year, according to a report from the national Department of Education. And over 70 percent of students play some roll in bullying, whether as a bully, a victim or a witness.
According to the Josephson Institute of Ethics, the figures are even higher—their studies say half of students report being bullied each year.

Ron Glass, associate education professor at UC-Santa Cruz, says that in our individualistic society with many racial, gender and class distinctions, people with low status look for someone lower down on the social ladder to push around.
“It isn’t surprising to find bullies in an individualistic culture like ours,” Glass says. “If kids have low status, they react in assertive ways because that’s how our culture tells them to be somebody.”
Bullying expert Nicole Young from Optimal Solutions Consulting in Santa Cruz will be leading a discussion workshop, through First 5 Santa Cruz’s Positive Parenting Program about bullying Wednesday Nov. 7. She says people refusing to stand up and address bullying is a serious issue in schools.

“They are encouraging bullying by standing by and watching it happen and also not saying anything. To really address bullying, it’s going to take a lot of work and good communication—from the kids, the parents, the teachers, the administration.”
The workshop, which will be at Brook Knoll Elementary in Scotts Valley, will address what to do if one’s child is being bullied, why children bully one another and how to even tell it’s happening based on important signs.
“If the child is all of a sudden wanting to be more isolated from their peers, that could be a sign,” Young says. “There could be more obvious signs of more physical bullying if their coming home bruised or hurt or with their belongings missing.”

 

Getting Worse

Young says that with the advent of cyber-bullying online, the issues have only gotten worse. “It’s frightening to realize how much bullying had been going on,” she says.

The New York Times reported in 2010 that one in five middle school students said they had been cyber-bullied.

In the past two months, there have been three high-profile cases of suicide in the aftermath of cyber-bullying, two in Ireland and one in Canada. Earlier this year, 15-year-old Amanda Cummings of New York stepped in front of a bus carrying a suicide note after receiving cruel comments on her Facebook page.

“There have been a number of instances like that recently,” Young says, “where people feel so alone and so helpless. It’s heart breaking.”

One of the most famous cases came in 2006, when 50-year-old Lori Drew created a fake MySpace account, which she used to harass 16-year-old Megan Meier. Meier took her life. Drew was indicted in 2008, but acquitted in 2009 because a judge determined the government has no authority to police websites’ terms of service.

Michael Josephson, a father of four, says it’s easy to get wrapped up in the statistics, but the numbers aren’t what matter.

“It’s deep enough,” Josephson says. “There are enough suicides. There are enough people who are torn up emotionally. There are a bunch of kids who don’t want to go to school. There are enough examples where it’s start to stop counting and start fixing.”

 

Vicious Cycle

After Quentin Barnes’ bullying woes began last year, his mother began to see the clear signs of her son feeling isolated.

“Since this is happening, he’s been very withdrawn. He’s been very sad. I can’t even talk about it without getting emotional,” Denice says, a tear running down her face.

At five feet and over 100 pounds, Quentin is no munchkin. He’s in the 99th percentile for height. He’s over a full head taller than nine of the members on his 11-member baseball team. Denice calls him light-skinned “Baby Shaq,” after pro basketball behemoth Shaquille O’Neal, who was reportedly 6’6” at 13 years old.

Denice worries that if the bullying continues, Quentin will start fighting back more aggressively and keep throwing more punches—something he’s already threatened to do. She doesn’t want to see that coming back to haunt him.

“I don’t want him to not get scholarships or educational opportunities because he hit someone who called him a name,” Denice says.

Nine years old may sound like an early age to start talking about someone’s long-term educational chances. But she has a lot of faith in Quentin. He gets very good grades, reads at a seventh-grade level, and even started a school reading club. He scores advanced in standardized STAR testing for both English and math.

And he talks at dizzying speeds of his knowledge of tarantulas, Amazonian fish and his true love, insects.

“They are really cool, have cool designs work in special ways,” Quentin says. “Ants, they’re really small, but they carry about 90 times their weight!”

Denice would like have Quentin transferred to a different school, but has been unsuccessful so far, and her family can’t afford private schooling. When it comes to tough times, Quentin tries to take them one day at a time.

“It’s horrible,” Quentin says. “It makes me feel uncomfortable. It makes me not want to go to school at all, but you have to deal with things in life, so I go to school.”

“Being Bullied: A Free Positive Parenting Workshop” will be held Wednesday, Nov. 7 at Brook Knoll Elementary in Scotts Valley, from 5:30-8pm. For more information on bullying resources, visit www.first5scc.org.

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/2012/11/06/parent_says_soquel_school_has_bullying_problem Andrea

    I find it dispicable that an area like Santa Cruz, that prides itself on being so accepting would allow such behavior in their “zero tolerance” schools. I guess they mean zero tolerance for anyone different- whether the difference is in height, weight, skin color, religion, whether you have two dads or six eyes or one leg or whatever. If you, as a parent, allow your child to bully someone else’s child, you fail as a parent and deserve to have your kid(s) taken away from you.
    And your a$$ kicked!

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/parent_says_soquel_school_has_bullying_problem.html Andrea

    I find it dispicable that an area like Santa Cruz, that prides itself on being so accepting would allow such behavior in their “zero tolerance” schools. I guess they mean zero tolerance for anyone different- whether the difference is in height, weight, skin color, religion, whether you have two dads or six eyes or one leg or whatever. If you, as a parent, allow your child to bully someone else’s child, you fail as a parent and deserve to have your kid(s) taken away from you.
    And your a$$ kicked!

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/2012/11/06/parent_says_soquel_school_has_bullying_problem Jeff Caplan, Director, Common Language Program

    While situations like Quentin’s are not unique, the Soquel School District has been working with parents, teachers and student over the past five years to prevent bullying behavior in collaboration with the Santa Cruz based Common Language Program. Staff and all students at Main Street, Soquel and Santa Cruz Gardens elementary schools have adopted rules to prevent all kinds of bullying, including verbal, physical, cyberbullying and playground exclusion.  Students have also role-played how to stand up for each other, and when to call for help from adults.

    Traditional punishments, including suspension, often result in more retaliation and bullying.  For this reason, in addition to discipline, many local schools and the County Office of Education are looking into research based, non-punitive Solution Teams®, that empower students to replace bullying behavior with respect and effective social skills.

    Bullying Prevention booster presentations will be held at Santa Cruz Gardens School starting on 11/9/12. For more information on these and research based, non-punitive Solution Teams® go to http://www.CommonLanguageProgram.org or call 831.475.1925

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/parent_says_soquel_school_has_bullying_problem.html Jeff Caplan, Director, Common Language Program

    While situations like Quentin’s are not unique, the Soquel School District has been working with parents, teachers and student over the past five years to prevent bullying behavior in collaboration with the Santa Cruz based Common Language Program. Staff and all students at Main Street, Soquel and Santa Cruz Gardens elementary schools have adopted rules to prevent all kinds of bullying, including verbal, physical, cyberbullying and playground exclusion.  Students have also role-played how to stand up for each other, and when to call for help from adults.

    Traditional punishments, including suspension, often result in more retaliation and bullying.  For this reason, in addition to discipline, many local schools and the County Office of Education are looking into research based, non-punitive Solution Teams®, that empower students to replace bullying behavior with respect and effective social skills.

    Bullying Prevention booster presentations will be held at Santa Cruz Gardens School starting on 11/9/12. For more information on these and research based, non-punitive Solution Teams® go to http://www.CommonLanguageProgram.org or call 831.475.1925

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/2012/11/06/parent_says_soquel_school_has_bullying_problem Jessie Westby

    I am very pleased to know that this article has been published. It is essential that we are aware of the severity of bullying and the impact it has on the victims. It is also important to hold the schools accountable for there failure to address the situation in a way that does not have a negative impact on the victim. Quentin…. I am so sorry that you are going through this right now, it is unjust, and wrong on so many levels. Please have hope in the fact that the voice of the press can make things happen and change culture over time. Even though the environment you are in right now is predominately one of bullies and injustice, please now that their are many citizens in this world who are standing behind you, have read this article and are cheering for you because of your courage to address this situation and your perseverance to excel in school academically despite all of your undeserved mistreatment. Thank you being a voice for all who are going through this.

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/parent_says_soquel_school_has_bullying_problem.html Jessie Westby

    I am very pleased to know that this article has been published. It is essential that we are aware of the severity of bullying and the impact it has on the victims. It is also important to hold the schools accountable for there failure to address the situation in a way that does not have a negative impact on the victim. Quentin…. I am so sorry that you are going through this right now, it is unjust, and wrong on so many levels. Please have hope in the fact that the voice of the press can make things happen and change culture over time. Even though the environment you are in right now is predominately one of bullies and injustice, please now that their are many citizens in this world who are standing behind you, have read this article and are cheering for you because of your courage to address this situation and your perseverance to excel in school academically despite all of your undeserved mistreatment. Thank you being a voice for all who are going through this.

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/2012/11/06/parent_says_soquel_school_has_bullying_problem Sherry

    I Agree with you 100%

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/parent_says_soquel_school_has_bullying_problem.html Sherry

    I Agree with you 100%

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/2012/11/06/parent_says_soquel_school_has_bullying_problem Gina Rene

    I am really glad that this article has come out right now and I give props to Denice Barnes for speaking up and out on this undeniable issue that is both a local, national and international issue.

    As a mom myself I’m concerned about the ways I see and hear adults, parents and teachers in our community responding to bullying and situations like it. I know a 17 year old who was nearly run over by a fellow students car on purpose and the staff of the high school tried using the same tactics described in the above article and the student who’s life was threatened is still scared because nothing substantial was done to help in assisting real communication and change between these young people.

    I also hold the media responsible as well as myself and all adults, parents, teachers lawmakers, law-enforcement because we are the elders and role models for our youth. As a singer and songwriter myself I recognize the power that words and images have on especially young people’s growing minds.

    What are we really doing to be the change by how we are living and modeling ways of being that foster healthy communication, thus healthy community?

    Anyone who’s interested in having more detailed conversation about such issues feel free to contact me via email. I’m considering forming a weekly circle with other parents in town because this is really our responsibility.

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/parent_says_soquel_school_has_bullying_problem.html Gina Rene

    I am really glad that this article has come out right now and I give props to Denice Barnes for speaking up and out on this undeniable issue that is both a local, national and international issue.

    As a mom myself I’m concerned about the ways I see and hear adults, parents and teachers in our community responding to bullying and situations like it. I know a 17 year old who was nearly run over by a fellow students car on purpose and the staff of the high school tried using the same tactics described in the above article and the student who’s life was threatened is still scared because nothing substantial was done to help in assisting real communication and change between these young people.

    I also hold the media responsible as well as myself and all adults, parents, teachers lawmakers, law-enforcement because we are the elders and role models for our youth. As a singer and songwriter myself I recognize the power that words and images have on especially young people’s growing minds.

    What are we really doing to be the change by how we are living and modeling ways of being that foster healthy communication, thus healthy community?

    Anyone who’s interested in having more detailed conversation about such issues feel free to contact me via email. I’m considering forming a weekly circle with other parents in town because this is really our responsibility.

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/2012/11/06/parent_says_soquel_school_has_bullying_problem Cali Will

    I took my first job as a full time teacher nearly 10 years ago in Santa Cruz Co.  Just after No Child Left Behind went into effect.  I was hired to teach 6th grade math and science.  I had about 40 students per class, and six classes total, that’s 240 students.

    They told me I qualified for a class size reduction so they tested all my students first.  The ones who tested the lowest in math were pulled from my class and they made a new class of all the lowest math students.  This new class never received a teacher instead they got different substitutes.

    When it came time for standardized testing.  They made sure all the students were there.  The called home reminding parents how important it was that the kids showed up on testing day even if they were sick.  Each school is allowed a certain number of absences when the test is given, and we were going to use them wisely.  The head of the Math Department hand graded the tests from the “bad class” and removed the tests with the lowest scores.  Those students were to be marked “absent”.  Our AYP score shot up due to this data manipulation.  And we got a heroic review in the newspaper.

    I was then surprised that the “bad students” never got returned to my class.  This entire class would have nothing but substitute teachers for the entire year.  Talk about “No Child Left Behind” here’s an entire class “left behind”.  When I complained about this they threatened to fire me and ruin my reputation.  Three of us filed union grievances and we all got fired.  The next year our principal was paid over half a million dollars to “retire early”, but she just went to another Santa Cruz School, and still runs it today.  I could tell you her name, but most of us already know, and I’d probably get fired again.

    Kids are bullied, teachers are bullied, because NO Child Left Behind has turned the schools into a prison system where the only thing that matters are math test scores.  California has over 10% of school age children yet ranks #50 among the States.  The US has a horrible education system compared the the rest of the World, and it’s the very worst here in California.  Don’t listen to the BS.  Go sit in your kids class and see for yourself!  Don’t try to fix NCLB.  Just get rid of it entirely and start over.

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/parent_says_soquel_school_has_bullying_problem.html Cali Will

    I took my first job as a full time teacher nearly 10 years ago in Santa Cruz Co.  Just after No Child Left Behind went into effect.  I was hired to teach 6th grade math and science.  I had about 40 students per class, and six classes total, that’s 240 students.

    They told me I qualified for a class size reduction so they tested all my students first.  The ones who tested the lowest in math were pulled from my class and they made a new class of all the lowest math students.  This new class never received a teacher instead they got different substitutes.

    When it came time for standardized testing.  They made sure all the students were there.  The called home reminding parents how important it was that the kids showed up on testing day even if they were sick.  Each school is allowed a certain number of absences when the test is given, and we were going to use them wisely.  The head of the Math Department hand graded the tests from the “bad class” and removed the tests with the lowest scores.  Those students were to be marked “absent”.  Our AYP score shot up due to this data manipulation.  And we got a heroic review in the newspaper.

    I was then surprised that the “bad students” never got returned to my class.  This entire class would have nothing but substitute teachers for the entire year.  Talk about “No Child Left Behind” here’s an entire class “left behind”.  When I complained about this they threatened to fire me and ruin my reputation.  Three of us filed union grievances and we all got fired.  The next year our principal was paid over half a million dollars to “retire early”, but she just went to another Santa Cruz School, and still runs it today.  I could tell you her name, but most of us already know, and I’d probably get fired again.

    Kids are bullied, teachers are bullied, because NO Child Left Behind has turned the schools into a prison system where the only thing that matters are math test scores.  California has over 10% of school age children yet ranks #50 among the States.  The US has a horrible education system compared the the rest of the World, and it’s the very worst here in California.  Don’t listen to the BS.  Go sit in your kids class and see for yourself!  Don’t try to fix NCLB.  Just get rid of it entirely and start over.

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/2012/11/06/parent_says_soquel_school_has_bullying_problem Cali Will

    I tried to explain what was happening on a deeper level but you only want to print comments that blame the victims like “that little boy needs to stand up for himself” or “these teachers sure aren’t trying very hard.”

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/parent_says_soquel_school_has_bullying_problem.html Cali Will

    I tried to explain what was happening on a deeper level but you only want to print comments that blame the victims like “that little boy needs to stand up for himself” or “these teachers sure aren’t trying very hard.”

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/2012/11/06/parent_says_soquel_school_has_bullying_problem Linda Guerra

    What irony, my daughter had exactly the same problems last year with the same teacher, principal, etc. with no resolution. I certainly hope this article opens the eyes of the community and the proper steps are taken to insure that this STOPS NOW! No child, regardless of race, social status, etc., deserves to be subjected to this mean behavior. Shame on you Soquel School District!

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/parent_says_soquel_school_has_bullying_problem.html Linda Guerra

    What irony, my daughter had exactly the same problems last year with the same teacher, principal, etc. with no resolution. I certainly hope this article opens the eyes of the community and the proper steps are taken to insure that this STOPS NOW! No child, regardless of race, social status, etc., deserves to be subjected to this mean behavior. Shame on you Soquel School District!

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/2012/11/06/parent_says_soquel_school_has_bullying_problem Linda Guerra

    My daughter would like to be in contact with you but your comment doesn’t say how to reach you. Please contact me at bunnyguerra@yahoo.com so I can put you in contact with her. She had the exact problems discussed in this article (same cast of players at the school).

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/parent_says_soquel_school_has_bullying_problem.html Linda Guerra

    My daughter would like to be in contact with you but your comment doesn’t say how to reach you. Please contact me at bunnyguerra@yahoo.com so I can put you in contact with her. She had the exact problems discussed in this article (same cast of players at the school).