The story of an 11-year-old Orange County, Fla., girl who last week was tased by a sheriff's deputy after a spree that included pushing a student into oncoming traffic, spitting at a teacher and punching the deputy in the face before being taken down, was seen as only the latest in a bullying trend that one group of Carson parents worry translates to increasingly higher stakes on the schoolyard at an earlier age.
"Look, between the way some kids run rampant on the playground and the budget cuts that have literally taken away any kind of supervision - I'm worried," said Sunni Heinrichs, a Fritsch Elementary parent.
"I'm not blaming the schools, the administrators or the teachers. It's just a fact of life. When you cut staff, there are going to be problems."
Heinrichs, who said an on-campus incident at the school last year involving sheriff's deputies sparked her to action, is leading a group of concerned parents who think a new bullying phenomenon is worth a closer look.
The first meeting of the "Parent Awareness Committee" is scheduled at 6:30 tonight at John Mankins Park, 3051 Oak Ridge Drive.
"We've experienced all this bullying going on and in this politically correct world there's just a lack of acknowledgment and supervision going on on the playground," Heinrichs said. "It's just a free-for-all."
Heinrichs, who said she takes multiple days off work to volunteer on the Fritsch playground, points specifically to this year's arrangement where vice principal Wayland Denny splits time between Fritsch and Seeliger elementary schools.
No other schools in the district have to share a vice principal.
"You can't expect the same continuity when he's trying to be two places at once," Heinrichs said. "Parents from (Fritsch) feel like they're being punished; I'm sure Seeliger parents do as well."
Fritsch principal Mary Garey acknowledged that sharing a vice principal is a "balancing act."
"We are a microcosm for society," Garey said. "The same issues in society are going to be prevalent in schools. That's life. But we have to do the best with what we have - whining about it isn't going to do any good.
"That's what these parents are trying to do is raise awareness that there needs to be more parent involvement."
Carson City School District trustee Joe Enge said the school board hasn't addressed the bullying issue, but that doesn't mean there's not a problem.
"I'm a (trustee) as well as a parent of two kids in the school system here. I see things; I hear things - we all do. I guess the question is - how serious is the problem?"
Vice principal Denny, who is currently working at Seeliger Elementary, did not agree that his new schedule has affected his ability to help with disciplinary action at either school. However, Denny said students' playground behavior is tangibly different when he's on campus.
"If I'm on campus, it's an extra set of eyes," he said. "It's like if you're driving down the street and you see the cop car, you're going to slow down.
"I like being around and being proactive. I'd rather spend 15 minutes playing football with the kids than two hours investigating what happened on the playground when I was gone."
School district Superintendent Mary Pierczynski said though the district is looking at more budget cuts, she feels the disciplinary situation here is "very good."
"It's something we continue to work on, always," she said. "We have a safe- and drug-free schools coordinator paid through a grant; she works with us on anti-bullying programs. There are solutions out there and many programs, good programs, that address those issues in school.
"You solve bullying problems on a daily basis by being diligent, by paying attention and working on it every day."
"It's a big issue for a small group of people," Fritsch principal Garey said. "Our number-one concern is to maintain a safe environment in school, and we do not take that lightly."
• Contact reporter Andrew Pridgen at email@example.com or 881-1219.
If you go
What: Parent Awareness Committee meeting
When: 6:30 p.m. today
Where: John Mankins Park, 3051 Oak Ridge Drive
What it's about: Organizer Sunni Heinrichs, a Fritsch Elementary parent, wants to shed light on what appears to be a district-wide bullying problem. Parents from all schools are welcome.
Solutions: Heinrichs hopes to involve enough parents to take the issue in front of the school board and perhaps look into implementation of a program like "Safe School Ambassadors" - a staff- and student-training that helps school districts address bullying problems.