He was on his way to class when a Pleasanton sixth grader said he was confronted by a group of six boys.
It was a confrontation that nearly got David Schmitz killed.
“He was going off to school everyday, big smile on his face,” recalled his mother, Erika Schmitz. “His backpack was loaded down, riding on his scooter.”
But then, the then-11-year-old came home, jeans ripped with a mark on his face. He told his mother that on his way to school, the six boys shoved him off of his scooter, then pushed him into oncoming traffic a block from Hart Middle School. The driver of the first car swerved, thankfully running over the scooter and sparing David.
“There’s definitely a moment of disbelief,” Erika said. “Of real pain.”
But David had gone through all his classes that day and kept quiet, silenced by fear and paralyzed by the thought that those boys might come back for him. “I was nervous kind of, checked each corner, checked my footsteps.” The bullying nightmare wasn’t over just yet. “A week later, I was riding home from school and someone kicked my bike and I fell onto the grass.”
Schmitz said she immediately called school administrators after both incidents, but complained the woman in charge was less than responsive. “She was too busy to meet with me.”
Pleasanton Unified School Board Member Jamie Yee Hintzke said Schmitz wasn’t the only parent who felt ignored by district and school leaders.
“I’ve definitely had parents come to me and say I’m not getting any response, I don’t know what else to do and they were considering talking to attorneys,” Hintzke said. She added that in the last four years she’s been on the board, there’s been an “intentional” shift to being proactive about bullying. Hintzke said the district’s recent campaign to fight bullying seems to be successful according to the numbers.
Last year, there were 52 reported cases of bullying, 19 up until Dec. 31. The year before that there were 61 cases with 26 at the halfway point. This year is on track to improving even more with 18 reported cases as of Dec. 31.
“I would definitely say there’s more of a focus. They do assemblies now, they are more responsive to kids,” Schmitz agreed.
Hintzke said there’s actually been a longstanding culture of bullying in Pleasanton, even at the top administrative levels. “Being bullied, myself, as an adult, has given me a really different perspective around what it’s like. You start to question everything, you start to be physically ill when you’re becoming bullied. It’s a very real thing and it just breaks my heart that we’ve got little kids feeling the same things I’m feeling as an adult, and thinking how can they be in the best learning environment when they’re feeling this way?”
The high schools have already begun to tackle bullying head on. Amador Valley High School students recently created a Facebook page titled, “Hey, You’re Awesome. Love, Amador,” in order to spur positivity and fight against cyberbullying. Starting next month, Foothill High is rolling out a new “restorative justice” pilot program funded by a $16,000 grant that will sit bullies and victims down face-to-face to confront the real underlying issues that may be festering among students.
“Having the conversations to begin the healing,” Hintzke explained. “It’s really upsetting to me when you expel a kid, you but a black X on their back and expect them to shake it off, and turn around on their own.”
The seriousness of the consequences may be best relayed by the still-shy 13-year-old David Schmitz, who survived bullying and said he’s better for it.
“It’s a big deal and it hurts a lot of kids, sometimes sticks with them for the rest of their lives.”