I-TEAM EXCLUSIVE: North Bay high school suspends victim of bullying

SANTA ROSA, Calif. -- High school students around the Bay Area are feeling the pressure of final exams, but one Santa Rosa junior is feeling pressure of a different sort -- bullying. And her mother complains that the school district failed to address the bullying until it reached a boiling point.

It appears as though Piner High School took the toughest action against the victim of the bullying. After an emotional confrontation with staff she was suspended and not allowed to return to class for two months, which is especially tough with finals this week.

Sixteen-year-old Zoe Teeter started the school year well, becoming the Piner High Student Body President, getting A's and B's, and playing on the Varsity basketball team with her best friend, Jasiah Sufi. Then, she says, the bullying began.

"They all know where I live," Zoe told the I-Team's Dan Noyes. "They said they're going to come to my house and beat me up. You know, I'm just waiting for the knock on the door when they're here, it's scary."

Jasiah added, "Zoe is a very smart, beautiful young lady and sometimes girls get mad when someone looks better than them."

Zoe felt the barrage on social media. One message, "People are guna (sic) beat you up, hard ... As soon as you step on campus, you will go to the hospital."

One student posted a video on Snapchat in which she said, "Zoe Teeter and Jasiah *** Sufi, both some scary hoe *** ***."

The video contained one very direct threat.

"Don't *** play with me, ***. For real, Zoe," the student said. "I will end your life and your momma life, ***."

Zoe says, "They would sit outside my class, they would follow me to my class, they would follow me to the bathroom, a group of eight of them and the school wouldn't, I'd bring everything to their attention and they wouldn't do anything."

Zoe told Dan Noyes that Piner High can be a violent place, and that fights happen most every month. The I-Team obtained a Snapchat video of one from May. A photo shows the aftermath with the words, "Fight at Piner."

In Zoe's case, the bullying came to a head March 16, when a girl confronted her outside a classroom.

"She's been wanting to beat my ass and I'm going to get it," said Zoe. "And her friends were like encouraging her, fight her, fight her, and they all have their phones out."

"Zoe has never been in a fight before. I don't like seeing her get bullied," said Jasiah. "It's been going on for so long, it's hard for me to watch so after so long of being tired of it, I just told them I'm tired, if you want to fight, fight me."

School officials broke it up before any punches flew. But the next day, they suspended Zoe and then changed it to an expulsion, claiming she threatened another student during a meeting in the principal's office.

Piner High Assistant Principal Andrea Correia testified under oath at Zoe's expulsion hearing last week, "And during that time Zoe said I'll *** you up. I don't remember exactly what she said, but it was that specific thing like, 'I'm getting suspended anyway, I might as well.'"

But, Jasiah testified the assistant principal was confused -- it was actually her who said something like that.

Michael Fiumara, Zoe Teeter's lawyer, asked, "So you're the one that said, 'Beat her *** ass?'"

Jasiah Sufi answered, "Yeah, 'cause she told me I was suspended for five days, so I said, 'Since I'm getting a 5-day suspension, I might as well beat her ass.'"

The panel overturned the school's move to expel Zoe, and said she can return for final exams this week. But, it's been difficult to keep up during the two months away, even though the school provided some homework.

"It's awful," Zoe's mother, Gina Hunter, told the I-Team. "How is my daughter supposed to teach herself chemistry and geometry?"

Dan Noyes tried to get answers from school officials on the bigger issues -- does Piner have a bullying problem? If so, what's being done about it? And, should they have taken action earlier to stop Zoe from being bullied?

Dan told the district's General Counsel, Carl Corbin, "I need to talk to you about the bullying."
Corbin: "No, there's no bullying."
Dan: "There's no bullying." Corbin walked away without further comment.

Dan asked Assistant Principal Andrea Correia, who filed the complaint against Zoe Teeter, "Miss Correia, if you had dealt with the bullying before this point, would it have come to this?"
Correia: "I'm not going to answer any questions, sorry."
Dan: "Why not?" She also walked away without further comment.

Finally, Dan approached Mary Ann Ayala, the district's Director of Student and Family Engagement, and asked, "What steps have you taken to address the bullying, ma'am?" She closed the door to the office, without answering.

Zoe and her mom are pushing for a tutor and a transfer to another school. Jasiah Sufi has agreed to leave Piner High. After that hearing, the I-Team reached the principal by email. He wrote, "We take bullying seriously and investigate all reported incidents."

Read his full email exchange below.

From: Zalunardo, Tim
Sent: Thursday, May 26, 2016 4:28 PM
To: Noyes, Dan
Subject: RE: bullying

Dear Mr. Noyes,

Please see the responses to your questions below. Thank you.

1. Can you tell me what program you have in place to address bullying at your school?
a. At Piner High School we take bullying seriously and investigate all reported incidents according to Santa Rosa City Schools Board Policy and Administrative Regulations.
2. Do you see it as an issue?
a. No.
3. Have you seen fights among students this school year?
a. As in any comprehensive high school there are student incidents and we work to intervene with support, redirect students, and handle incidents appropriately.
4. What steps did you take to address the bullying Zoe Teeter was experiencing, before the incident March 16th?
a. Again, we take all complaints seriously, investigate, and take appropriate action to stop the behavior. I cannot comment on a specific student's situation. Please keep in mind, that at times students may report a bullying incident that upon investigation is found to be unsubstantiated or simply false. However, as I already stated, we take bullying allegations very seriously and we strive for all of our students to be able to attend school in a bullying-free environment.

Tim Zalunardo
Piner High school
Piner High School Vision Statement:
Piner High School will be a dynamic educational community filled with compassionate individuals prepared to engage in the 21st century. We will promote inquiry, collaboration, creativity, perseverance, and rigor in order to foster civic involvement and personal success.

Click here for more stories by Dan Noyes and the I-Team.