Newark school's fights show growing issue of bullying

January 30, 2011 11:21:47 AM PST
Bullying has been a problem for decades, but gone are the days of stealing someone's milk money on the playground. These days, it is a lot more serious.

Newark Memorial High School is no different from many other Bay Area schools in its size and diversity, but the school has a reputation for fights that are often posted on YouTube.

The list of fights posted on YouTube is a long one. There is even a music video of the top NMHS fights of 2010.

Some of these fights involve targeted attacks on students who have been picked on for months.

One such fight was captured on cell phone video during a 10th grade biology class. "Tina" was sitting in her chair before the fight began. She says her classmates were telling another girl to fight with her.

"People were egging her on, telling her to fight me and get it over with," "Tina" said.

"Tina," 15, says the other student bullied her for a year.

"My freshman year she was calling me names and I confronted her and asked her why and she said I was talking to her boyfriend," "Tina" said.

"Tina's" mom describes how her daughter looked when the fight was over.

"I found my daughter with a pack of ice over her nose, her shirt was bloodied, blood on her jeans on her shoes, crying," "Virginia" said. "I immediately said I want to press charges and I want this student removed."

The student was suspended for five days. As for criminal charges, "Virginia" says every county department tells her all information is confidential since the girl is a minor.

ABC7 called the Alameda County Juvenile Probation Department and the district attorney's office and got the same answers.

"Tina's" mother is also demanding more from the school district.

"I would expect the student be removed from school permanently, absolutely she's a threat," "Virginia" said.

"There are criteria we have to use when we do expulsions; we can't just expel a child for a fight," school board president Nancy Thomas said.

Newark Unified School District has very specific guidelines when it comes to fights on campus. On average, a student who is caught fighting is suspended for five days.

California's education code allows a student who bullies to be suspended or be recommended for expulsion, especially if the bully has a history of fights, uses a weapon or is on drugs.

The district's superintendent insists the situation is under control.

"I don't believe bullying is a problem in our district," Kevin Harrigan said." You have an isolated incident with two students; we have 7,000 students in Newark Unified. It's important to focus on how we do work with the 7,000 students."

The district says it has policies in place to prevent bullying, like signs in classrooms, anti-bullying hand books and even a 'three second rule' for teachers that says if an adult sees a student being bullied and doesn't do anything within three seconds, that is tantamount to giving approval to it.

But in "Tina's" instance, the district violates its own standard for teacher conduct. Over 30 seconds pass from the time the desk is thrown at "Tina" to when the teacher finally gets involved.

"When we were standing up and I was on one side of the desk, I'm looking at him not saying anything but I'm looking at him, like, 'Do something,'" "Tina" said.

Harrigan says the teacher "responded to the best of his ability."

ABC7: "You're OK with the teacher's response?"

Harrigan: "What I'm saying is each one of these situations is situational."

ABC7 learned the teacher was given a warning and the other girl voluntarily changed schools.

Newark Unified School District leaders say they are re-focusing on the bullying phenomenon, as are other districts in the area.

ABC7 has been following this issue for some time. At a meeting in San Jose in November, students shared their stories about being bullied. For many, it was their first time speaking about it publicly.

"The kids put notes in my PE locker calling me a whore, saying I was retarded," one student sharing her story said during the meeting."

The bullying epidemic is growing nationwide. The stories of students who have taken their own lives because of bullying are not hard to find.

Many say, often times, school staffers ignore the problem. According to, nationwide, 282,000 students are physically attacked by a bully, every month. Adults intervene only 4 percent of the time. No one helps 85 percent of the time.

"Tina" has decided to leave Newark Memorial High School due in part to the bullying.