Correction and update: TUSD issues statement on bullying

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Correction and update: TUSD issues statement on bullying

CREATED Feb 18, 2012 - UPDATED: Feb 18, 2012

Reporter:  Forrest Carr

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - The Tucson Unified School District is defending its handling of campus bullies, and challenging some of KGUN9 News' reporting on the incident.  In response, KGUN9 News is issuing a correction and clarification to one aspect of our reporting.

On Friday evening TUSD spokesperson Cara Rene sent KGUN9 News an email saying that KGUN9 News' statement that four TUSD students have killed themselves amid cyberbullying this school year is not true.  "We researched the claim and the report is wrong," Rene wrote.  "We don’t know where you received this information."

On receiving the email, KGUN9 News double-checked our source.  The police statements and interviews on which we based our report said that the student suicides had happened in Tucson. They did not specify that that they had happened in the Tucson Unified School District.  Our original report got it right, but some of our follow-up reporting got it wrong.  An internal miscommunicaton is to blame and the fault is completely ours.  KGUN9 News withdraws the statement that any of the incidents happened in the TUSD district, and regrets the error and any suggestion that the bullying problem is exclusive to TUSD.

Rene also sent us a statement assuring the public that TUSD has strong anti-bullying policies and procedures in place, and works hard to educate students about bullying issues.  "Currently, the district has a minimum of nine research-based, nationally recognized anti-bullying programs implemented. Every school has anti-bullying strategies in place to address victims, bullies and bystanders. Bullying is addressed through universal prevention, education, targeted interventions and individual responses."

We have already presented evidence on air to support Rene's statement.  Our initial investigation documented some of those programs in operation.  That investigation along with our full series of bullying stories can be found under "Bullying" on the Hot Topics tab at the top of our website, or by clicking this link.  A link to Rene's full statement can be found on the left side of this page.

Rene's statement did not address any of the specific cases documented in our reporting.  Most recently, we have been reporting on the case of the Maybin family, whose daughter suffered a concussion and brain injury in a hallway attack.  Not only was the accused assailant never prosecuted, but, according to the official police report, when the suspect returned to campus, administrators declined to call police as they'd been asked to do.  According to the investigating officer, the explanation administrators offered for that refusal was that the decision was for the "betterment of the school."  Eventually, the Maybins decided to withdraw their daughter from school because of what they say were recent death threats against their daughter from a second bully.

As we have reported, the school's principal initially agreed to meet with KGUN9 News and with the Maybins to discuss the issue on camera.  Later he canceled the interview.  In explanation earlier this week, Rene sent KGUN9 News an email stating that the interview would violate privacy policy and law.  After KGUN9 News strongly challenged that reasoning, the principal agreed to talk on camera.  He is disputing the officer's version of events, as reflected in the officer's report, and insists the school handled this case by the book.

The Maybins' story is not, by appearances, an isolated case.  Since our reporting began, KGUN9 News has been flooded with comments and suggestions from viewers. Many of them have reported similar types of issues and have asked us to look into them.  This is how we learned of the Maybins' case. 

In the wake of 9 On Your Side's reports, there are some small steps forward to report.  The office of county attorney Barbara LaWall is taking another look at the Maybin case to see if further legal action is warranted, given what the Maybins are now saying about the severity of their daughter's injuries.  Further, the office has promised to modify the way it communicates with victims to make those communications easier to understand, after 9 On Your Side questioned why the Maybins received a letter written in legalese.  After seeing our report about the Maybins, school board member Michael Hicks expressed anger over what had happened and an interest in looking further into the matter.

Meanwhile, KGUN9 News is in the process of investigating more cases presented to us by outraged and frightened parents. 

The problem of teen suicide itself is, regrettably, not a new one.  Nor is the issue of bullying.  But the problem those suicides being connected to bullying on the Internet is a modern phenomenon.  Because of privacy issues surrounding suicides, such cases typically are not reported to the media.  So we have few details to share.  We do know that the threat of suicide was an issue in the Maybin case.  But regardless of how many such bully-related suicides have actually taken place in Tucson in general or TUSD in particular, it is clear that something is going on, and that police, parents, many educators and at least some school board leaders are highly concerned about it, as they should be. 

9 On Your Side's reporting on this matter will continue.  We have assigned a team of reporters to cover various aspects of this story.  They can be reached as follows.

Valerie Cavazos:
Stephani Ruiz:
Steve Nuñez:
Claire Doan:
Marcelino Benito: