published Sunday, November 27th, 2011

Bullied boy at Chattanooga's Hunter Middle School speaks up for other victims

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    Hunter Middle School is located off of Hunter Road in Ooltewah, Tenn. Staff file photo
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Should bullies be expelled from school?

First Drew Herrmann felt anger, then shame. Now, after a traumatizing bullying episode at Hunter Middle School in September, he's simply afraid.

The shy, blue-eyed 13-year-old hides behind long brown hair as he talks. He doesn't want to talk about it, but if telling the story again protects him, then he will.

On Sept. 23, Herrmann was one of at least four students held down in the locker room by four other boys and beaten with a belt while another student took video on a cellphonelike recorder.

It happened as the boys were changing clothes to start morning physical education class, he said. It happened again as the boys changed at the end of the class.

Neither time was a teacher present.

"Right when I took my shorts off somebody came and said, 'Hey, over here.' Then two other boys grabbed me and held me down," he said. "One of them started hitting me with the belt, one videoed."

This was the first time it had happened to Drew, but it wasn't the first time that the group of boys had victimized fellow students. A subsequent police report revealed that the abuse had been going on for weeks.

Hunter Principal Robert Alford told the Chattanooga Times Free Press he couldn't comment on the individual incident. But he said the students responsible were punished. He said he couldn't disclose specific disciplinary actions because of student privacy.

Every day an estimated one in four children is bullied, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. The issue has gained attention in Hamilton County and across the nation in recent years, spurred by violence and student suicides tied to bullying and the rising incidence of bullying via social media and the Internet.

Drew said nearly all of the 25 classmates were in the locker room when the incident began. He left after the boys finished hitting him and they targeted another victim.

School officials found out about the incident only after Drew told his mother, Tracy Sims, that Friday afternoon and she called Alford.

Alford met with Drew, his family and School Resource Officer James Naylor the following Monday.

After the meeting, in which Drew described the events, a sheriff's investigator questioned those involved and found out that the group belt-beatings had been going on since the start of the school year in August.

Names of the other alleged victims and perpetrators have been redacted from the police report and other documents because all are minors.

But the report says one boy was the primary aggressor. It says he giggled when he told police about the event, saying he "was just having fun" and that the group planned "these whippings in advance."

He told police that "no one would tell on him because 'people respect me and who I am so I can do what I want.'"

Apparently the intent was to post the video online, but officials don't believe it got that far. Police copied the video for evidence, then deleted it from the recording device.

Sims contacted Alford after the meeting, trying to learn what had happened to the accused boys. She got little to no information, she said, with school officials citing privacy laws.

Each day Drew heard rumors that the boys were coming back to school.

Parents of other victims also contacted the school and four of the five Sept. 23 victims gave information to police, which allowed the aggressors to be charged with assault in Juvenile Court.

Sims learned from other sources that the aggressors were suspended for 20 days and placed in alternative school until next semester. She wants them expelled.

At least one boy has threatened Drew on Facebook since the suspension.

On Oct. 13, one of the boys posted, "Drew I [expletive deleted] hate you."

Another person asked who Drew was.

" this drew Herman kid snitched on me for holding his legs up while my friend beat his [expletive] with a belt haha."

"I'm kickin that kids [expletive] when I see him."

Sims said she and her attorney, Ben McGowan, shared this with Hamilton County Schools lawyer Scott Bennett and were told that the Facebook threat didn't take place on school property and the school system doesn't have a duty to act.

"They've said nothing," Sims said.

Bennett did not return phone calls Monday or Tuesday.

Hamilton County school board Chairman Mike Evatt, who was contacted about the incident, said he looked into the matter and learned that punishments were issued. He was in contact with Sims until he received a letter from her lawyer, at which point he turned it over to the schools' own attorney, he said.

"I would rather not comment on it because it is a legal matter now," Evatt said.

The accused boys' parents can appeal the suspensions. Privacy policy prevents Sims from attending those appeals or offering her son's account unless asked by the appeals board.

The void of information has her frustrated, she said.

Even if the boys can't be expelled, even if she can't know specifics, the school can at least tell her and other parents what's being done to keep students safe and prevent future such offenses, she said.

McGowan said he has contacted the school and Bennett to learn what plans are in place to investigate bullying acts and protect victims but has received little response.

"Bullies flourish in a culture of silence, and the Legislature has figured that out; the parents have figured that out. Drew figured that out and had the guts to come forward," McGowan said. "And it seems like Hamilton County School District [representatives] are the only people yet to take a stand on this."

Staff writer Kevin Hardy contributed to this story.

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about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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dendod said...

These punks who bully as children later cause society a lot of problems. As Barney said, "Nip it in the bud". If the school board and the principles and teachers don't have the backbone to stop the bullying then the parents should demand they step down from their jobs and let people who can keep the children safe and the environment one where children can concentrate on learning take over. Enough is enough. I thought when we got rid of Dr. "Can't teach a dog to fetch a stick" Scales and Tommy "Smoke and mirrors" Krantz we would have some positive changes in our school system. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe some parents should take a day or two off from shopping and walk a protest line in front of the schools that can't keep the children safe. Stand up...Speak out....Make a difference. You owe it to the children.

November 27, 2011 at 8:20 a.m.
rolando said...

On Sept. 23, Herrmann was one of at least four students held down in the locker room by four other boys and beaten with a belt while another student took video on a cellphonelike recorder.

This is not "bullying", this is criminal assault and battery. These are gangbangers -- unable to "man up" alone so they en masse turn on others. The only thing they will ever understand is superior force.

The victims, acting alone and in secret, need to take them on separately -- on different days and times, preferably from ambush, armed as necessary but avoiding deadly force -- and following the precepts of Machiavelli -- Don't just beat them and let it go at that [they will hate you], but destroy them so completely the mere mention of your name strikes abject fear in their hearts and minds. But cover your tracks...the authorities will be on their side -- victims are not allowed to fight back.

There is no other way...complaining to the authorities will merely get you more severely beaten. Been there, tried both ways...only one worked.

November 27, 2011 at 8:28 a.m.
rockmomma said...

As a parent of a student at Hunter Middle School, this sickens me. I personally went to the head of the school when I heard these rumors months ago and was told that the incident had been exaggerated and the problem had been resolved. Hello.... this incident has been swept under the rug since the begining. These students should be expelled and not welcomed back to our community. If these were adults, they would be arrested and a court date set. We as parents need to know this stuff so we can protect and teach our kids accordingly. Hunter Middle School better address this with the comminity ASAP, the kids need to feel safe when they go to school. Gonna be a long week for the principals at Hunter this week!

November 27, 2011 at 8:58 a.m.
America said...

This is disgusting!! Why can't we stand up for the victims? Expell these current and future criminals. Just disgusting!!

November 27, 2011 at 9:45 a.m.
pgoldberg said...

So in the Hamilton County School System, if a kid posts a naked picture on a website no one visits, that's a felony charge. But if a group of boys holds another boy down and beats him with a belt it's not even a criminal matter...sounds right.

November 27, 2011 at 10:05 a.m.
bratenn said...

Here's how to nip it in the as much research on the bullies' parents as you can (i.e. arrest records, bankruptcy records, etc.), put all your findings in an envelope and send it to school with your kid. Have your kid to pull it out and show everyone why the bullies have such a horrible life and explain that's why they act like they do. This embarrasses the bullies so much that they never bully again! Trust me this works!

November 27, 2011 at 10:18 a.m.
kmgrey71 said...

Wow, I don't what to say except these bullies need to be expelled and never welcomed back! I know my youngest son, now 18, was bullied when he was just in kindergarten. The teacher put a stop to that one herself. He also went to Hunter in 3rd grade, I am so glad he left there after that. If my kids were the bullies I would expell them myself if no one else is going to. This incident to me, seems more than just bullying though...

November 27, 2011 at 11:26 a.m.
minddoc said...
"People respect me and who I am so I can do what I want."

Included in the criteria for Antisocial Personality Disorder (formerly known as "sociopath") are: repeated violation of the rights of others, repeated physical assaults or other unlawful behavior, not experiencing guilt or remorse at having hurt another, believing that they are above the law (e.g., I can do what I want), and the belief that one is somehow entitled to hurt or control others. This story gave me chills. There is a substantial amount of research that suggests if a child/teen who is at risk for Antisocial Personality Disorder faces significant consequences for their behavior (e.g., they are held accountable and punished for their actions), then the likelihood of the "problem behavior" progressing into Antisocial Personality Disorder is diminished. If, on the other hand, the behavior is ignored or the "offender" simply gets a slap on the wrist, then it teaches that person that they can get away with what they have done. They will progressively grow bolder in their attacks, experience even less remorse, blame the victim for the violent behavior, etc. I can only hope the parents of these boys understand that this was far beyond "horseplay" and that they take action to help their child understand that hurting others is simply not tolerated. Drew, you are a hero. Your bravery has helped the other victims. Hold your head up and be proud that your strength in speaking out has helped this violence stop. To the School Board - do not let these boys return to this school. If you do make the mistake of returning them to a regular school, please don't allow them to return to Hunter Middle. And split them up into separate schools or they will "gang" up on more victims. I can guarantee that you will be putting Drew (and the other victims) in jeopardy if you let these boys come back to Hunter Middle. And then it is you that will be held accountable.

November 27, 2011 at 11:57 a.m.
01centare said...

America said... This is disgusting!! Why can't we stand up for the victims? Expell these current and future criminals. Just disgusting!!

They're just practicing and gearing up to become your futre neighborhood cop.

November 27, 2011 at 1:25 p.m.
dl said...

The biggest bully in my high school did become a cop. I also have a very good friend who has been a cop for 22 years - I would trust him with my life. Cops come in all types.

November 27, 2011 at 1:52 p.m.
SavartiTN said...

I agree with Rolando. This was criminal assault and battery. Those criminal students should be expelled. PERIOD.

Why is it that Hamilton County schools protect the criminal but not the victims? There is something terribly wrong here. Do you really think that the fear that these assaulted students live with is conducive to learning?

My son has been bullied at Ooltewah High School. Nothing is ever done because the bullies are members of the football team. His grades are suffering. It seems that the school has no interest except in that damn football team. They are just teaching all of the students that certain classes of people are more important than others. It's almost like the middle ages again when the serfs could not voice dissent.

I think that once a student attacks another, the parent of the victim should be entitled to know who that attacker is and what punishment he receives. This attacker should not be protected by privacy laws. Those rights should be revoked the minute the attacker puts his hands on another student.

November 27, 2011 at 2:20 p.m.
AuntJane said...

I'm against allowing these bullies to mingle with the other kids. What happens in Hamilton County if a kid is expelled? Do they go into an alternative school? This sounds like some teachers and a principle need to be fired!

November 27, 2011 at 2:49 p.m.
SavartiTN said...

According to the National Education Association, teachers and staff can be individually sued if they are aware of a bullying issue and do nothing about it.

November 27, 2011 at 3:02 p.m.
SavartiTN said...

Just for the record, the cyber bullying is against Tennessee state law and is a Class A misdemeanor. See Tennessee Code Annotated 39-17-308.

Parents should immediately call the police and report any acts of cyber bullying. Take screen shots and give copies to the police.

November 27, 2011 at 3:08 p.m.
GrouchyJohn said...

Privacy issues be damned.... people have rights, including the rights to privacy. A person also has the right to swing his/her arm and fist at my nose. But that person's right to do ends at the moment that fist impacts my nose. The HCDE needs to understand this and to quit hiding behind "privacy act" and using it as an excuse to not explain things.

I'm more and more becoming an advocate of "an eye or an eye" kind of justice, these bullies need a dose of their own medicine. At the very least they need to be stripped and flogged, preferably in front of those same kids that they inflicted the same treatment to. I'm sure someone would claim this to be "cruel and unusual punishment", but not one @#$% bit more cruel than the 5 on 1 beatings they administered. Unfortunately, it will never happen, someone would holler I'M GONNA SUE YOU!! It would be no more a cruel act than the beating I would administer to the person stupid enough to punch me in the nose....

November 27, 2011 at 3:15 p.m.
SavartiTN said...

After reading the Tennessee Code, the Hamilton County school board appears to be wrong about the Cyber Bullying taking place off of school property and therefore the school board DOES HAVE A DUTY TO ACT. See the last section (a)(3)(B). Here is the law:

49-6-1015. Definitions for §§ 49-6-1014 -- 49-6-1019.

(a) As used in § 49-6-1014, this section and §§ 49-6-1016 -- 49-6-1019:

(1) "Cyber-bullying" means bullying undertaken through the use of electronic devices;

(2) "Electronic devices" include, but are not limited to, telephones, cellular phones or other wireless telecommunication devices, personal digital assistants (PDAs), computers, electronic mail, instant messaging, text messaging, and web sites;

(3) "Harassment, intimidation or bullying" means any act that substantially interferes with a student's educational benefits, opportunities or performance; and:

  (A) If the act takes place on school grounds, at any school-sponsored activity, on school-provided equipment or transportation or at any official school bus stop, the act has the effect of:

     (i) Physically harming a student or damaging a student's property;

     (ii) Knowingly placing a student or students in reasonable fear of physical harm to the student or damage to the student's property;

     (iii) Causing emotional distress to a student or students; or

     (iv) Creating a hostile educational environment; or

  **(B) If the act takes place off school property or outside of a school-sponsored activity, it is directed specifically at a student or students and has the effect of creating a hostile educational environment or otherwise creating a substantial disruption to the education environment or learning process.**
November 27, 2011 at 3:18 p.m.
SavartiTN said...

(B) If the act takes place off school property or outside of a school-sponsored activity, it is directed specifically at a student or students and has the effect of creating a hostile educational environment or otherwise creating a substantial disruption to the education environment or learning process.

Sorry, it was omitted in the above post.

November 27, 2011 at 3:20 p.m.
PinkSalmon said...

"SavartiTN said... My son has been bullied at Ooltewah High School. Nothing is ever done because the bullies are members of the football team. His grades are suffering. It seems that the school has no interest except in that damn football team."

Then you need to threaten legal action and proceed to follow through with it. Have your son to document dates, times and events of bullying. Make sure he's not taking part in any kind of bullying acts himself to ensure nothing will backfire. I went through the very same thing with my son. Teachers and staff often look the other way when the bully is popular or is a friend or relative of members the staff. I've known teachers to encourage other students to pick on a student they've singled out. If you decide to take action, be prepared for possible retaliation from the school heads, and even some teachers. Been there, been through that.

November 27, 2011 at 4:38 p.m.
Salsa said...

01centare is just mad because they wouldn't hire him as a cop.

November 27, 2011 at 6:21 p.m.
Marj said...

This is not bullying, it is assaulting. The parents of the victims have the right to and NEED to press charges and obtain restraining orders against the bullies. I'm praying that this will be resolved peaceably and that the bullies will learn the error of their ways and get some counseling.

November 27, 2011 at 11:08 p.m.
rolando said...

Read The Lord of The Flies.

November 28, 2011 at 8:13 a.m.
justacomment said...

All Hamilton County Schools seem to care about is TCAP scores. They do not see students as individuals with needs or problems. Some students can get away with anything because of who they are or what their parents donate or how much time their parents donate. No wonder there are so many private schools in this county. Hamilton County public schools create a demand for private schools.

November 28, 2011 at 7:17 p.m.
huntermom said...

My daughter is a student at Hunter. She has had problems with bullying also. I have complained to Mr. Alford and even sent him a log of a facebook conversation where she was clearly threatened and nothing was done except talking to the other student. All the teachers there care about are the students who play sports or cheer. My daughter who is a senior went there also and describes it as the worst years of her life. I can't wait for my daughter's to be rid of Hamilton County schools. Next year, I am sending my youngest to private school and my oldest will be graduated!

November 28, 2011 at 10:40 p.m.
riverstronghold said...

Drew is a hero!

His attackers are criminals, even if youthful ones. The allegations indicate that they have committed assault and battery against at least several other people as well as violation of the cyber bullying law.

They deserve to be placed in alternative school at a barest minimum.

Drew deserves the assurance of protection from them by their removal for at least the duration of the year with evaluation before returning to regular school.

Secrecy of names of children offenders is appropriate. Secrecy of punishments, not so much.

If deterrence is possible with violent offenders with sociopathic behaviors, public statement of punishment might help them not end up in these individuals' situations, as well as protecting any possible survivors of further asocial violence.

November 30, 2011 at 4:53 p.m.
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