The 9-year-old girl’s ordeal with bullying by a classmate at a Maui public elementary school began in the bus line early last school year.
It started with teasing and name calling, then escalated into spitball throwing, her mother, Anna Grove, told Civil Beat.
When the girls’ parents intervened, the bully said his father, then incarcerated, would “kill” the girl and her father when he was released, Grove said. Deep into the school year, the student threatened to find the girl in a school bathroom and choke her, Grove said.
“T.G.,” as she’s identified in a recently filed lawsuit, then in the fourth grade at Wailuku Elementary, was too afraid to even use the school bathroom after that.
Concerned for her daughter’s safety, Grove said she repeatedly contacted the teacher, school counselor and eventually, the vice principal to see what they could do to intervene and protect her child.
She says she pleaded with them: “My daughter cries every day that she doesn’t want to go to school. It’s hard to get her up in the morning. Can you put a stop to it?”
Grove said school administrators failed to step in. The bullying lasted for the entire school year, to the point T.G. complained at home one evening in June of stomach cramping. She began vomiting. Grove took her daughter to the emergency room, where a doctor said she had a bowel obstruction and urinary tract infection induced by stress and not using the bathroom during the school day.
T.G.’s ordeal is broadly outlined in a lawsuit filed last month against the Hawaii Department of Education and several school principals by four families who say their children were subject to racial slurs, name-calling, cyber-bullying, sexual harassment and other forms of abuse by fellow students in recent years.
The lawsuit alleges that school administrators failed to take proper measures to investigate or remedy incidents of bullying, protect victims from retaliation when they did come forward, or inform families of the outcomes of complaints.
Kathleen Dimino, the complex area superintendent for the Baldwin-Kekaulike-Maui district, said she couldn’t comment on Grove’s case due to the pending litigation.
“However, in general, when students and families come to us with concerns, we do work diligently with our families and schools to resolve issues in a timely manner,” Dimino said in a statement.
Grove said she contacted Wailuku Elementary early and often to make officials aware of her daughter’s bullying. Describing her as a soccer player and happy kid, she could see changes in her behavior and demeanor as the school year wore on.
Grove’s husband personally confronted the bully and warned him to stay away from his daughter. The next day, T.G. was pulled from class by the counselor and admonished for her father’s actions, Grove said.
On May Day, a festive occasion in Hawaii known also as “Lei Day,” the girl wore a new dress to school. When her mother went to visit her in class, the girl had her denim jacket buttoned all the way up to her neck, concealing the front of the garment.
“We asked her to take (the jacket) off, and she didn’t want to,” said Grove. “We found out the whole reason she was wearing the jacket was because (the male student) was making fun of her dress, throwing grass at her chest.”
Following that incident, the girl wanted to cut off her long, flowing locks of hair and dress “less girly,” suddenly self-conscious of her developing body, according to her mother.
The school’s solution in the end was to offer summer counseling and tell T.G. to report to the counselor each time a new incident arose with the classmate during the new school year, Grove said.
Fed up with the lack of action by school officials, she and her husband obtained a restraining order against the male student.
He ended up switching schools this year, but that hasn’t ended the repercussions for her daughter, according to Grove.
“My daughter cries every day that she doesn’t want to go to school. It’s hard to get her up in the morning. Can you put a stop to it?” — Anna Grove
On the second day of school this year, a counselor to whom Grove and her husband had complained asked T.G. about the court case, according to Grove. The mother contacted the school principal, telling her she didn’t want her daughter asked about the suit and requested any continuing counseling be done when she was able to accompany her daughter.
The following day, as T.G.’s fifth-grade class was lining up to re-enter their classroom, the counselor stood in the doorway, giving each student a high-five. He put his hand down when he got to T.G., according to Grove.
“(He) picked her classroom line to stand in front of. She had no choice but to walk by (him),” Grove said. “As a counselor, you should mentally know it’s psychologically damaging to a kid. You put your hand down, and continue high-fiving every other kid.”
Grove said she wrote the principal about the matter. In a letter to Grove dated Sept. 7 that was reviewed by Civil Beat, the principal responded that the counselor “was complying with the directive given to him to not interact with (T.G.) when he was ‘high fiving’ students and did not do the same to (T.G.)”
Grove decided to pull T.G. out of Wailuku Elementary in late September and enroll her in a nearby private school.
“The last resort is, you finally have to take your kid out of the school,” Grove said. “I feel I fought so hard to keep her safe.”
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