February 01, 2012LANCASTER – A viral firestorm erupted last Wednesday, when a Lancaster parent accused White Mountain Regional High School of ignoring her plea to stop four girls from bullying her daughter so relentlessly that she attempted suicide. It started when Heidi Planz shared a letter on the Coos County Democrat's Facebook page that that this paper did not run.
"I let the school know what was happening…," she wrote but "they did not investigate."
Planz said her daughter, Alexa has since left WMRHS and enrolled in the North Country Charter Academy. She will not participate in many of the typical high school activities including -- the junior prom, and all the senior year events. Planz wrote that her daughter would miss these things "all because of the mindless actions of four girls, all bullies." And she continued, "These girls are going after another individual."
Specifically, Planz took aim at the SAU 36 interim Superintendent Harry Fensom, Vice Principal Michael Berry, and an unnamed guidance counselor and the Whitefield Police Department for not taking actions against the bullying teens, a charge that the school district denies.
Incensed Facebook readers attacked the paper with equal passion for its decision as the local school.
"This newspaper should be ashamed of themselves," wrote Theresa Belanger, of Whitefield, "make a difference but keeping us 'PROPERLY' informed." Others said, the Democrat should print all letters and not censor such attacks. Planz's son, Derrick Planz, of Lancaster, a 2009 WMRHS graduate, wrote that the issue is bullying, not the practices of the weekly newspaper. "What we are going through is hard enough," he wrote, "without people hopping on the band wagon trying to stir things up just so they can thrive off e-drama."
Hours later, an anti-bullying Facebook page entitled "Stop Bullying in the North Country" was started and now has over 700 members. Comments have since turned more civil since the initial furor.
WMRHS Principal Erik Anderson is legally bound not discuss details surrounding a specific incident, but he did respond generally to the charges made in Planz's letter.
"Bullying or harassment is never ignored and never trivialized," he said in an e-mail exchange after a personal conversation. "The investigators and administration who were involved in the matter being discussed on Facebook followed the established district procedures."
So far this school year (September –January), Anderson said trained members of his staff "investigated nearly 50 possible bullying/harassment complaints" and most of these "did not reach the level of bullying or harassment." Approximately, 15 cases were classified as bullying and the offenders were punished.
"Sometimes students and their parents," Anderson said, "are not satisfied with the outcome of an investigation. They absolutely have a right" to be unsatisfied. He outlined a 14 step district-wide process that is followed.
Anderson said the school has had two assemblies on cyber-bullying and last May a district-wide presentation was made to all staff by Dr. Malcolm Smith, UNH professor and anti-bullying expert.
Reached on Monday, Smith said he has heard from a few local people about this issue.
This controversy is not unique to WMRHS, he said, it's happening everywhere. "In rural areas," Smith added, "it (tends) to spill over into the community."
Smith estimated that 30 percent of the state's schools don't comply with the anti-bullying law and "that," he said, "scares me." Smith noted that recently the state Department of Education's sole position in charge of bullying has been eliminated.
Various societal problems are bearing down on young people – including disappearing empathy, fewer interpersonal skills and, he said, a "lack of parental involvement." Also, Smith added, "Kids are meaner."