On Sept. 10, Tania McAtee was one mother against bullying. Now she's leading more than 1,000 others in her fight.
The mother and Tipton resident is no stranger to the jabs, intimidation and threats characteristic of bullying behavior. She recalls being bullied as a child and watching her own siblings undergo that torment. Bullies began targeting McAtee's son, Tipton High School sophomore Jacob Stallman, while he was in fifth grade. Eventually the taunts grew into threats on his life and slurs about his sexual orientation.
On Sept. 10,2012, McAtee took her son's struggle to a Tipton Community School District school board meeting, fed up with an insufficient response from school staff and administrators.
"There's a problem here," McAtee said. "It's just getting swept under the rug, and no one's doing anything about it."
McAtee spoke her mind at the meeting but still didn't get the results she was seeking, so she took to the Internet. She began a Facebook group called Tipton Against Kid's Being Bullied to serve as a resource for other victims and their families. As of Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012, the group had 1,063 members.
"My goal is to be able to put out there, resources for people to educate themselves as far as what the state laws are, rights for kids who are homosexual or have disabilities, to get the word out there, to know that they’re not by themselves," McAtee said. "There’s people out there who care."
McAtee has brought the movement to life, distributing fliers that bear her name and phone number, as well as those of three other allies, pledging support to bullying victims.
"Why would you not want to give somebody a phone number who’s being bullied and say, ‘Hey, you can call me?' " McAtee said after mentioning past bullying victims who have taken their own lives. "To save somebody’s life and let them know that somebody cares? Yeah, I’ll give out my number.”
Superintendent Dick Grimoskas highlights Tipton Elementary School's Character Counts award-winning program and fifth- through 12th-grade teachers who are currently training each other in the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program as resources for students who are being bullied.
"We’d go to one of the counselors or the principal" is his reply for what happens if a student in the district reports harassment. Yet McAtee feels the resources are insufficient.
"(Students) don’t know where to go if they’re being bullied," she said. "They go to the schoo,l but if it’s not followed up, if it’s not followed through, they feel lost.”
McAtee is now gearing up for October, which is National Anti-Bullying Awareness Month. She's handing out free ribbons to wear or tie around trees, and she's planning to hold a balloon release and candlelight vigil from 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012, at Tipton City Park.
"I think anybody who comes out that night shows their support against bullying," McAtee said of the free event. "Let people know that we all stand together. We’re not going to put up with this any more. I think the first step is getting the community out there to show some support.”