Bullying and its prevention took up a large chunk of Thursday night's Bryan County Schools Board of Education meeting, with district officials pledging to address the issue on a deeper level moving forward.
Several people showed up at the meeting and five specifically asked to speak about the matter during public comments.
The concern was raised earlier this month after a Facebook post by a mother who said her daughter attempted to commit suicide after being confronted by fellow students at a Richmond Hill football game.
"Luckily she didn't succeed, but with everything going on we wanted to come together and present our concerns to the board," said Katie Jackson, who is not the mother of the student in question but who coordinated Thursday night's speakers. "As a nurse, I see multiple children who have been victims of bullying and either self-harm or have suicidal tendencies because of it. Some as young as 9."
Jackson said she worries that many in Richmond Hill are of the attitude that there is no bullying problem, and has been told that students who defend themselves could face punishment.
"This is happening in the classrooms, on buses, in hallways and on social media," she said. "Bullying not only needs to be handled by the schools, it should also be reported to law enforcement. We can no longer just say its kids being kids.
"I'm not here to point the blame at anyone," Jackson told the board, "but we have to come together to solve this problem."
Superintendent Paul Brooksher said the district does not want to downplay the issue.
"Growing up today is hard," he said. "Bullying is a word that sometimes gets misused because a lot of students get teased, but we don't want people to perceive that we don't take this seriously."
Brooksher said the district has anti-bullying curriculum at each level throughout the schools. From kindergarten through middle school, that curriculum involves things such as conflict resolution and empathy building, while high schoolers are taught how to cope with stress, respect themselves and others and how to make and keep friends.
"Many times school officials are not aware of what is going on," he said. "We encourage students and parents to report these types of situations immediately so administrators and counselors can address it."
Jessica Jackson, a parent who said her daughter was bullied to the point that she had to be removed from Richmond Hill High School, said the district needs to do a better job of prevention because morals and ethics are often not taught at home.
"Regardless of the cause, victims of bullying are never the ones to blame," she said. "More surveillance cameras would help because it would provide evidence and deter bullying."
She went on to say that her son, who suffers from ADHD, was suspended for three days after standing up to a bully.
"He was punished for being the victim of an assault," she said. "There are some very caring staff members in our district, but we need more."
Fausto Tenen, commander of VFW Post 7331 in Richmond Hill, told the board that the district is responsible for students in the same way he was responsible for soldiers under his command in Iraq.
"I had 32 guys to protect and it was my job to make sure every one of them came home," he said. "Our teachers and principals and board members are responsible for our students."
Brooksher said the district is working on coordinating a website that parents and students can use to access all the information that is available about bullying.
"It's our fault we haven't been more clear about our efforts," he said. "In my experience, I've never seen a school employee not take a reported allegation of bullying seriously. We are doing our best, but we can always get better."