About 60 parents and students attended Tuesday night's school board meeting advocating for stronger enforcement of the district's bullying policy.
"I'm here because I plan on having kids go to school here," said Lin Vaughn, a concerned resident attending the meeting. "They need to do something about this now."
One-by-one parents, students, and anti-bullying advocates approached the podium relaying the effect bullying has had on them and others, noting frustrations in dealing with administrators when trying to stop bullying, disciplinary actions taken against students who are being bullied and who retaliate in self-defense, and a general sense that those capable of improving enforcement of the district's anti-bullying policy are not taking their complaints seriously.
"I think the thing we need to understand is, if we as adults go somewhere and feel threatened, we're going to fight back," said Rachel Grosso, whose children are enrolled in Hernando County School District, and spoke Tuesday about being reprimanded when retaliating, and felt inadequate action was taken against bullies.
School board member Gus Guadagnino addressed parents and students during the meeting saying he is working to establish a council comprised of experts to identify solutions to the issues raised.
Also attending the meeting was the family of West Hernando Middle School student Miguel Rodriguez, 12, who recently committed suicide after documenting bullying incidents with the district involving being kicked in the head and groin, and whose family petitioned with letters to the school board to approve Miguel's request to transfer to another school.
Miguel's guidance counselor wrote that the incidents were the result of "horseplay," not bullying, and the school board denied his transfer request. A recent report issued by the sheriff's office also didn't find any instances of bullying.
Student Talor Heidt approached the podium and started to cry, telling the school board her best friend had just recently committed suicide. Heidt said she knows students who cut themselves.
"I've stood up for them, and I'm told to get a life," she said.
Miguel's mother was in tears and the rest of his family accompanied her as she left the room.
Weeki Wachee High School student Mikaila Darling said one of the big reasons she transferred from Central High School was because of bullying.
"I've been sitting here listening to everything, and they say they have all these policies implemented, and things they've done to change things, but I haven't seen anything done," she said. "They talk a lot, but they're actions are not proving their words."
Superintendent of Schools Bryan Blavatt lauded the first student speaker, who was at first reluctant, but soon publicly expressed that he was a victim of bullying, and that he was going to stand against it.
"If we're going to get a handle on the bullying, we're going to do it one student at a time," Blavatt said.
The primary source of funding for the district comes from Florida Education Finance Program, or FEFP, which includes appropriations for "Safe Schools" activities totaling $64,456,019 statewide for fiscal year 2012-13.
Safe Schools funds are payable to a guaranteed minimum of $62,660 per school district so long as the district is in compliance with all reporting procedures, according to Florida Department of Education, and as of 2012-13 the state department has monitoring authority to ensure district compliance of eight Safe Schools activities.
The eight Safe Schools activities are:
"If a district does not comply with these procedures, the district's funds from the Safe Schools allocation shall be withheld and reallocated to the other school districts," the appropriation act reads. "Each school district shall report to the Department of Education the amount of funds expended for each of the eight activities."
FEFP, the basis of funding for school districts, increased in fiscal 2012-13 by approximately $619 million, and the district is receiving $5,837,115, according to a copy of the district's 2012-13 budget.
"The base student allocation per weighted full-time student is $3,585.98, or an increase of $103.76 per student compared to last year," the budget shows. "Since (fiscal year) 2003-04 the school district has incurred significant rise in costs resulting from an increase in full-time students by approximately 3,342 students."
Hernando County School District has about 23,000 students, and according to Florida Department of Education data, 92 bullying/harassment reports were submitted by the district during the 2008-09 school year.
"These kids are crying for help," said Luis Leon, who also has children in the district. "And the bullies need help."