Local mother wants to help other parents deal with bullying at school

Austin Bell was so excited to start kindergarten this year. But his mom, Brittney Smith, says it quickly took a turn when he began complaining of stomach aches during the second week of school. Brittney eventually figured out that Austin was facing bullying at school.

“My son’s being pushed in the mud where he’s cried,” Brittney said. “He’s being pushed. He’s being pinched in the bathroom.  His seat has been taken from underneath him in the classroom. He’s being taunted.” Brittney says it took weeks for the local school to take it seriously and create an official “bully report.”

“I’m dropping my baby off at his kindergarten, taking pictures on his first day of school. (He’s) happy, not upset. I didn’t know that was a trap because I would not have sent my baby in there. You don’t understand how angry I am about this.” Brittney told KDKA’s Kristine Sorensen. “If I didn’t ask my son the right questions, he would have been suffering in silence for that semester or now.”

Brittney and the school recently created a “safety plan” which includes switching Austin’s teacher and having Brittney on speakerphone any time her son goes to the nurse or a teacher to report bullying. It also includes no contact with the specific bullies, something often called a “no contact agreement,” signed by both the victim’s parents and the aggressor’s parents.

Attorney and former school expulsion hearing officer Phil Dilucente explains that agreement can also include friends and family of the child doing the bullying.

“How do you manage that alleged third party contact on whether it did or did not take place, particularly in the social media environment these children are in today?” Dilucente says. “It’s very, very difficult, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.”

For Austin, the no contact agreement means having an extra monitor on the playground, no contact in the classroom, and going to the bathroom only with a trusted friend. In these cases, Dilucente says documentation is key.

Throughout the process, Brittney learned to send emails to the superintendent, principal and teacher and to save those emails.

Dilucente advises: “Have a paper trail so that there is proof that this is actually giving the school notice, as well as that it’s going to be addressed.”

Brittney wants other parents to learn what took her weeks to figure out, so their kids don’t face the repercussions of bullying and can get help much more quickly.

“My son has anxiety,” Brittney said, “and I’ve seen bullying on the news, right? I sympathize with the parents. I’ve cried, you understand me? But I lacked the knowledge, and I had to do my research and reach out to people to understand.”

Dilucente says he’s seen more bullying on social media among kids recently. He says this could be related to the negative and extreme commentary on social media by many adults. Meanwhile, Austin is getting therapy to help overcome the effects of the bullying, and his mom hopes everyone can learn from what they’ve been through.


For more information about kids and social media use, check out Common Sense Media’s guide to managing social media anxiety. And click here for Kidsburgh’s mental health content