By Shereen Siewert
WAUSAU — A threatening message written in black marker on a John Muir Middle School bathroom wall is raising questions about how the district is responding to threatening or bullying behavior.
“Olivia is a dumbass snitch who needs to be killed,” the message reads, followed by a string of vulgarities. The message was discovered on Monday.
The child’s father, Eric Heuser, tells Wausau Pilot and Review that his daughter, the subject of the message, has been enduring months of harassment at the hands of bullies at school.
In a prepared statement, Wausau School District Communications Coordinator Amy Arlen said that first and foremost, student safety is a top priority for the district.
“The School Board has a comprehensive policy around the prohibition of bullying and hazing,” Arlen wrote. “Situations are first handled at the lowest level, which is typically at the school, and each situation is thoroughly reviewed and investigated. Throughout the review and investigation process, students are supported by counselors, social workers, and/or other mental health professionals, as all sides of the situation are examined. This support includes both the students who are the harassed/bullied and harasser/bully and continues throughout the continuum of consequences. Depending upon the circumstances of the situation, potential consequences fall on the continuum from mediation and parent contact up to the potential for pre-expulsion/expulsion. In addition, law enforcement is utilized proactively in any scenario that warrants their involvement.”
But state Department of Instruction data show expulsion rates in the district fall below state levels, and are virtually nonexistent for even some of the most egregious offenses. In the most recent data available from the 2016 to 2016 school year, dangerous weapons in the Wausau School District were reported at a rate of 2.8 per 1,000 students, more than twice the state average of 1.1. Yet while the number of expulsions for such offenses statewide sits at 4.8 percent, the rate in Wausau is zero.
There is similar DPI data for drugs and assaults. Drug-related events in Wausau schools were at 3.5 per 1,000 students, with the statewide average at 2.6. Statewide 7.8 percent of those events resulted in expulsion. In Wausau, the rate was zero. As for assaults, Wausau reported 9.6 events per 1,000 students, above the 8-per-1,000 student statewide average. The expulsion rate statewide was 1.5 percent, but no students were expelled in Wausau.
In fact, just one Wausau student was expelled in 2015-2016, according to the DPI.
During his reelection campaign, Wausau School Board Member Pat McKee specifically named bullying and harassment as one of his top three priorities in his next term, calling for “zero tolerance” policies.
“Our current policies in this area are too weak and/or poorly enforced,” McKee said, in a March interview with Wausau Pilot and Review. “Immediate action is necessary before more harm is done to students who are simply trying to engage in a productive day at school.”
Results of a Wausau School District parent survey released in May show middle school parents are concerned about whether bullying is being properly addressed. According to the survey, 74 percent of John Muir parents are satisfied with the school’s handling of bullying. At Horace Mann, the outlook is significantly lower, with just 67 percent of parents reporting satisfaction with school bullying and harassment policies.
Wausau Police Chief Ben Bliven said the department is looking into the threat. Officers are looking at hallway cams and trying to determine the source of the message, Bliven said.
“We are very involved in this specific situation,” Bliven said.