‘It’s really devastating’

People express displeasure at Rogers City meeting about bullying

News Photo by Julie Goldberg Rogers City parent Mike Porter, Rogers City Middle School student Hunter Porter, and Rogers City parent Jennifer Porter speak during Monday’s Rogers City Area Schools Board of Education meeting. People spoke to the board about alleged bullying in the district.

ROGERS CITY — The mood at the Rogers City Area Schools Board of Education meeting Monday was an emotional one as residents, parents, and students spoke to the board about alleged bullying in the district.

More than 50 people were in attendance Monday to hear others talk to the board about what has been going on throughout the district. Fourteen of those people took the opportunity to speak during public comment.

The demonstration was organized after a Rogers City high schooler, Natalie Grulke, killed herself on May 2. Grulke’s mother, Jenny Grulke, was in the audience Monday but did not address the board.

State surveys completed last school year show nearly 30% of Presque Isle County high schoolers had been bullied that year, and 19% had been electronically bullied.

After each of those 14 people spoke, there was a large applause. The board often had to enforce the five-minute time limit on numerous people, cutting people off from finishing what they wanted to say.

First to speak was parent Mike Porter, who said the district has a bullying problem that needs to be fixed somehow. He said children in the community are being affected and the community needs to work together to get the bullying under control.

“This is not the fault of anyone in particular,” Porter said. “Our children are here 30% of their waking hours and that 30% affects 100% of their life. Let’s work to make that 30% the best it can be for our kids. The members of this community are willing to work with you.”

Jennifer Porter spoke on behalf of her son, Hunter. She read a statement that the sixth-grader wrote about his issues with bullying in the school.

The board, though, did not let Jennifer Porter speak on her own behalf. The board told her she had used her five minutes by reading her son’s statement. Those in attendance were not happy. Jesse Osmer, legislative director for state Rep. Sue Allor, spoke on Jennifer Porter’s behalf by reading her statement.

Rogers City student Isabella Loughran told the board that when students see nothing done about bullying after they talk to an adult, it hurts them.

“When things are happening here at this school and no one is taking action, it’s really devastating,” she said. “No one takes action anymore. There’s just so much going around the school and it’s not OK. When me and my friends gather at lunch to just go to counselors and whoever we can talk to where we feel safe, it’s just honestly so pathetic that we have to band up in groups to try to stop this now. Something needs to change now.”

Throughout public comment, people were continually telling the board that bullying is too common, that technology has made bullying more serious, and parents are continually hearing about bullying from their children. Some talked about their personal experiences with bullying and some suggested options to the board of how the bullying issues could be resolved.

Board Secretary Gregory Zurakowski thanked those who spoke and said the board will take everything that was shared into consideration.

“I would like to assure that you have been heard,” he said. “We will find a way to make things better, so thank you for your candor, for the boldness that it took for many of you to stand in front of this group and sharing your thoughts and feelings.”

After the meeting, board President Devin Pommerenke said the board will take everything in and listen to what was said. He said there were a lot of emotions and concerns that people want resolved.

Pommerenke said there is already an anti-bullying task force in the district, which meets as needed. He anticipates that that task force will be more active after what was said Monday during public comment.

Mike Porter said after the meeting that it was hard to hear the stories from everyone. He said children are the number-one priority, so hearing parents speak about what has happened to their children was heart-wrenching.

“I’m glad they stood up and were able to tell their stories,” Mike Porter said. “I’m glad that the board had a chance to see exactly what our kids are going through.”

Julie Goldberg can be reached at 989-358-5688 or jgoldberg@thealpenanews.com. Follow her on Twitter @jkgoldberg12.