Letter to the editor: Parent of suffering ADM teen speaks out


To the editor:

Last night you published a letter by one of the children in our district in regard to the bullying he received in school. I would like to share my view as a parent and member of this community.

Monday night I stood in front of the school board and dozens of other parents and spoke about how two months ago my daughter, a junior at ADM high school, tried to take her life twice and ended up in the hospital for psychiatric stabilization. When asked by doctors, nurses and social workers why she wanted to harm herself, she said it was in large part due to the bullying and harassment she was receiving at school.

There were nights she would come home in tears and having panic attacks from theater because the girls in charge were so awful to her. She told the theater director, who then told those girls that if they didn’t stop, they would not be allowed to return to theater the following semester. These girls were seniors and only have one more semester before they leave.

It was reported to the vice principal that my daughter had sexually assaulted a boy in junior high. I was working out of town, but my husband called me to explain what happened. I then called the school and asked how they were going to follow up and discipline the kid(s) who falsely accused my daughter of assault, as we all have seen how false accusations can follow someone for life.

I was told all parents involved would be notified and was told that since no one could prove who said what, it became a game of he-said-she-said, and the kids were told to keep their heads down and to quit talking about it. If anyone has teens, you probably know how that worked out.

It was going around town that my daughter was now known as “the rapist.” I was so proud of her this year. She has been struggling with her physical health and had to deal with some tough blows this year. All she wanted to do was keep her head down and make a few friends to get her through until she could graduate and go to college in Colorado.

She struggles socially but really tried hard to put herself out there to make new friends. Even after the bullying in theater continued and I told her she didn’t have to go back, she still went, hoping to make friends.

It finally became too much. Late one evening in December, I received a text at work from her, telling me she felt like she was having a mental health crisis and needed immediate help.

I had been watching her decline quickly over the previous few weeks. I asked her regularly if she felt like she wanted to harm herself, and she would tell me, no. I would constantly tell her that she doesn’t have to be afraid to talk to us about what she’s dealing with.

I already had her in therapy and on medication. I did everything I should do as her parent, but it still wasn’t enough. I didn’t hesitate, and we drove to Blank Children’s Hospital, and they were incredible.

That same night, I received a message from one of the parents involved. She asked if my daughter was okay, and she’d hoped her son wasn’t involved. I asked her, “You mean, you don’t know what happened a couple weeks back?” It was then that I learned that this boy’s mother was never called by the school.

The morning after my daughter was admitted, the woman called the school to find out why she wasn’t notified of the incident involving her son. She was told that because she was not listed as a primary contact, they didn’t feel it was a priority to call her (split households).

My husband had specifically been told all parents involved would be notified. She was angry with the school for not notifying her and told them she absolutely should have been called.

I followed up that phone call with my own in-person meeting with the vice principal that same morning. I hadn’t slept in two days, and I was heartbroken and terrified for my daughter’s life.

Admittedly, I was heated and should have waited to go in. I told him that I’d had to put my daughter in hospital for care because she wanted to kill herself due to the bullying. In tears, I asked what it was going to take to get them to finally realize that this is a serious problem in the schools.

I warned that if they didn’t do something about this, the very situation we find ourselves grieving this week was going to happen. I volunteered to head up a parent, student, faculty and administrators panel. I said I’d start that very day if I had to. But change had to happen and bullies needed to start being punished.

Every time I asked a question, I was met with, “I can’t discuss due to privacy” or “I don’t know what the answer is.” More than anything, I felt like he just wanted me out of his office.

I went home and called the superintendent, had the same conversation and asked the same questions of him. I volunteered with him as well to start a panel to stop this in our schools. While I was met with soothing words, I saw no follow through.

My husband and I decided at this point the safest course for our daughter was to remove her from the district. She never went back after her stay in the hospital.

Now, here we are. Grieving a child whose light went out too soon. Instead of sitting around the supper table and talking about their day, these parents are currently at the funeral home, greeting the friends and family of their oldest son. I’m heartbroken for them. It could have been me in their shoes tonight. It almost was. I had to take my son tonight to grieve his lost friend.

I do not feel that the school is solely to blame. I understand that, to a degree, the teachers’ hands are tied. I understand they cannot help what happens outside of school, and I understand they are overwhelmed and underfunded. I stated that in my conversation with both the VP and the superintendent.

Phones, social media, the internet and other factors also play into this. The failure is also on our heads as parents and community members. This behavior starts early, and it starts at home. We fail our kids when we’d rather be their friends. We’ve become a society too afraid to discipline.

The school has the responsibility and obligation to do their best to foster a safe learning environment for these children during school hours. I and many other parents do not feel like this is the case. This has been an ongoing problem for many years, and it seems like every story Monday night was the same: Lack of communication, lack of anti-bully policies and lack of follow through.

We as parents have a responsibility to our kids and students to help educate them on the effects of bullying, to set good examples for them and, when necessary, to follow through by correcting bad behavior.

As a community, we have a responsibility to vote for government representatives who are willing to fund mental healthcare and to work on erasing the stigma that comes with mental health awareness.

We all have the responsibility to work together to end this vicious cycle and to save our children. I am doubling down on my offer to help get a movement started to help our kids. It takes a village.

The first thing that needs to happen, though, is for the school to acknowledge the issues. Only then will change finally begin to happen. Let’s make sure that Caelen’s death was not in vain.

I’ve been very outspoken this week. I’m sure I will lose friends. I know there were people at the meeting angry with those speaking against the school. If you and your kids live in this district and have never had anything less than a good experience in ADM, I am relieved for you.

I pray you never have to experience what Dale and Lindsay Peterson are going through. I pray your children never get to a point where they feel so helpless and hopeless that the only solution left to take away the pain is suicide. Please forgive the rest of us if we have lost confidence in the school board and administration.

Amber Rowley


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