Parents at anti-bullying rally want answers from new superintendent

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 4, 2013

SALISBURY — The new Rowan-Salisbury Schools superintendent says she’s looking for new ways to prevent bullying in the aftermath of 11-year-old Daniel Safrit’s suicide.

But in a heated confrontation with parents outside a Rowan-Salisbury School Board meeting, Superintendent Lynn Moody said she had no quick solutions to bullying in the school system.

Despite just starting in her new position on Tuesday, Moody — along with other school board members — met with parents who were hosting an anti-bullying rally outside a North Ellis Street building before the meeting.

The protest was created in the wake of 11-year-old Daniel Safrit’s suicide. Safrit’s parents said the boy’s death was a result of continued bullying.

Most of the encounter was marked by fiery exchanges between Elizabeth Bailey, a parent and relative of the Safrits, who demanded ideas from Moody about new bullying programs or policies.

Bailey said Daniel was the second suicide in two years at the school and criticized the effectiveness of Erwin Middle School’s anti-bullying program.

But the most intense moment of the night came after Jamie Safrit, Daniel’s mom, arrived and railed against Moody and the school system she recently took over from retired superintendent Dr. Judy Grissom’s administration.

“Every single day. Not one. On the bus. Every day,” Jamie screamed through tears. “My child was an A-B honor student and now he’s dead. They called him a name the day I took him back to school. Nothing was done. Nothing.”

Still, Moody told the group that she had not known Daniel, but that she had investigated the incident and is looking for new ways to help prevent similar situations.

“I’m sorry that I don’t know,” Moody told Safrit. “I wish I did.”

School officials stood along the parking lot of an old school building for about an hour as roughly 20 parents and children chimed in on specific instances of bullying or perceived injustice in the system.

“We agree with you. We stand with you. There is bullying. We all got to come together to take care of that,” Moody told the group. “It’s not just the school. We’re all together. This is a community thing.”

Moody said the schools have had grief counselors and additional counselors at the school all week — a response issued at some who had said the school didn’t have counselors.

Due to confidentiality and the family’s privacy, Moody said, she couldn’t provide any more information about how Daniel’s case was handled.

“I’ve done my own investigation of this and I’m very aware of what’s been done and you’re inaccurate on several areas here,” Moody told Bailey.

But the irate group — many of whom were clad in white T-shirts emblazoned with a photo of Daniel — led by Bailey ripped into the system, calling it a “failure.”

When Moody started in on the number of bullying programs and policies the school system has implemented over the years, Bailey quickly fired back, saying parents wanted to know about new policies since the old ones were in place before Daniel’s suicide.

“You tell me personally from you to one parent in the community — who has nieces and nephews that go to Rowan County schools and has a niece and nephew that goes to Erwin that’s the same age as Daniel — tell me personally, what is it that you guys have already talked about putting into place right now to change the policy that obviously does not work that will save the next child?” Bailey asked.

Despite pleas for an idea, Moody said those discussions and solutions don’t come at a spur-of-the-moment rally.

“I think we should continue the anti-bullying programs that we currently have in place,” Moody said. “I think we continue our dialogue with families.”

Still, the angry crowd wasn’t satisfied. “What is it that you have come up with since Daniel has died?” Bailey asked again.

“What you want is the same thing that we all want,” Moody said. “You want me to be able to walk out here and tell you we can change something and this will never happen again.”

“Yes, that’s exactly what I want,” Bailey said, as fellow parents yelled agreements.

“I want that, too,” Moody said. “If I could give you that. I would give you that.”

“So you can’t do that?” Bailey responded.

“No, I don’t have a program,” Moody said. “I don’t have a solution by myself.”

Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.