When former Zebulon Middle School student Michael Morones attempted suicide six months ago, school staff was quiet.
Guidance staff was available for students, but there was no bigger effort to curb bullying in the school, until now.
October is National Bullying Prevention Month and Zebulon Middle School student support staff prepared a month-long plan to gather information about bullying, inform students of bullying at their school and empower the entire school community to do a better job of identifying, reporting and stopping it.
“We know it’s a problem so we decided to tackle it head-on,” said Zebulon Middle’s behavioral specialist, Berita Atkinson.
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The school hosted Unity Day last week to have students examine how they can work together to stop bullying. They wrote on paper chains what they can do to help and linked them. They also signed a pledge to stand up against bullying and be drug-free, another effort the school works on in October.
At the beginning of the month, the school distributed a survey to get information about bullying and bullies at the school.
It showed 72 percent of students have experienced bullying at school. The survey also asked students if they had been bullies, but Atkinson said most students did not admit to that.
Zebulon Middle guidance counselor Tinger Purvis said there were more promising findings from the survey, like that students felt comfortable to go to teachers with problems.
Policies empahsized, not changed
In addition to essay and poster contests, informational videos, pledges to sign and a county-wide video contest, Zebulon Middle staff reminded students of resources the school already has to help with conflict.
For the past few years, the school has offered a private reporting system for students to report problems like bullying to administrators.
When Morones attempted to hang himself in his Zebulon home in January, his parents said bullying at school is what pushed him to attempt suicide. Morones survived the attempt and now has to attend several types of therapies. Him and his family now live in Garner, closer to relatives.
Zebulon Middle and Wake County Public Schools declined to comment at the time of the incident, not willing to corroborate Morones’ parents’ claims.
There was also an investigation opened by the Wake County Sheriff’s Office, which is protocol for suicides. The investigation was closed in March and no charges were filed.
Since January, the school system has not made any documented changes to its bullying policies.
WCPSS spokesperson Lisa Luten referenced the official policy- last revised in 2012- but would not comment on any other changes the school system made following Morones’ suicide attempt.
Purvis said the school was also told not to comment on anything that changed following Morones’ attempt, but reiterated the confidential reporting system the school has available to students.