Parents Complain about Bullying at Cesar Chavez, Call for Full-Time School Counselor

Parents at Cesar Chavez are talking a “mean girls phenomena” where their children, some in the third grade, others as early as first grade, are being bullied at school.

Aside from concerns about the immediate handling of the bullying issue, one of the major issues raised by many of the parents is that not only was the school counselor on maternity leave, but when the counselor is there, it is only part time.  Many of the parents pointed out the need for at least a full-time counselor, given the size of the campus at 600 students.

A few parents came forward at public comment at the last school board meeting to get the attention of the school board and push for additional counseling.

The Vanguard spoke with Grace Bassett, whose daughter received a written death threat in class in third grade.  “I will kill you,” was written on a white board at the table where she was working.  That message, she explained, “was immediately following a threat from the ringleader of this group, ‘I’m going to tell the principal on you for talking about and I’m serious.’  Of course the only part the teacher heard was ‘and I’m serious.’”

Ms. Bassett explained, “It’s been an issue all year long but we’ve had no counseling.”

This ringleader apparently had problems the previous years, and the parent believes she would benefit herself from meeting with a counselor.

One of the big problems is that at best they have a part-time counselor for the whole school, Ms. Bassett said.   “She’s there half time for Patwin and half time for Chavez.”  Between the two locations, she’s responsible for about 1025 kids.

One of the remedies given to Ms. Bassett’s daughter is a “no questions escape pass” to see the counselor.  But that means she can see the counselor “on Mondays and Thursdays and alternating Wednesdays” to go talk to her.  Her mother explained, “On the other days, she can sit in the office and speak to the interim principal or wait until she’s calm enough and can go back.

“It’s heartbreaking that there’s not somebody there every day,” she explained.  “What if something would happen on a Tuesday?”

The Vanguard spoke to another mother of a third grader who had a similar experience.  Her daughter this year made a new group of friends “that are not very nice.”  She had an older, existing group, and she has found herself caught in the middle, with each group getting mad at her when she went to the other group.

“The new group of friends she had made were very mean and very bullying,” she explained.

In one incident, her daughter came to school with an injury to her toe and told her friends about it.  She explained that “they proceeded to encourage other kids and they themselves kept stepping on her toe, and acting like it was an accident.  Saying oops.  Continually.  It’s not an accident.”

They also constantly would tell her, “I’m not your friend today.  Just out of nowhere.  I’m not your friend anymore.  My daughter would get really upset.  An hour later, she’d say, okay I’m your friend.  It’s just this constant emotional drama with her.  My daughter was completely caught up in it and anxious.”

Another time her daughter brought her favorite magazine to school and showed it to her friends.  She left it on her backpack at lunch and when she returned, “someone had torn it into pieces and left it on her backpack.  That was really disturbing to her and it seemed to escalate from there.”

The parents got concerned and contacted the principal and it was at this point that her daughter confided that the girl in the mean group was doing all sorts of physical abuse to her.  “She came home with a bruise the size of a plum on the shin,” she explained.  Her daughter acknowledged that the girl had kicked her.  “She opened up that in class, the girl would sit behind her on the rug and would hit her in the back when the teacher wasn’t looking.”

But it appears the interim principal didn’t handle it appropriately.  According to the mother, the principal called them both into the office at the same time, and the bully denied it entirely.  “My daughter just said, ok.  She wasn’t going to stand up to that,” she explained.  “I was floored.  The principal said the issue was solved, you guys can play together again.

“My head almost exploded, I couldn’t believe that,” she said.  At this point she contacted the school psychologist.  She was alarmed to find out she was on maternity leave.  When she returned a week later, the mother asked her to work with the students on a regular basis.  She was told, “I can’t do that, I have to split time at two schools.”  And she works part time anyway, going between the two schools.

She said this bully was picking on another girl and her parents got involved.  She doesn’t know what happened, “but somehow this bully stopped being mean to this other girl.”

Things are better right now for her daughter, but the mother is still waiting for the next shoe to fall.  “Without counseling this is just going to come back,” she said.

Other parents did not want to talk to the Vanguard, but evidently had similar experiences.  Some came during the school board meeting at public comment.

Lupita Torres spoke during public comment two weeks ago.  She said that her daughter has been there since kindergarten and has had a number of issues with bullying, but she always felt like “nothing would be done.”

However, she has talked with other parents who are also concerned.  “It’s pretty bad, students are getting physically attacked,” she said.  “Nothing gets done.  There is a lot of name calling.  My daughter, she’s not fat, but she’s been fat shamed.”

She noted that while people might believe this is normal behavior, she said, “I have been there for four years and I can say it is above and beyond what is normal.

“My daughter has been punched in the vagina, she’s been kicked in the stomach, the staff on the campus will say, what did you do to deserve that – basically telling my daughter she did something wrong.  It’s been more than a couple of times over the years.”

Melissa Moreno also spoke during public comment at the board meeting and described her first grader at Cesar Chavez coming home “with her first major story of bullying.”  She said, “It was so intense that my husband and I decided we need to get her some support.”

Ms. Moreno told the board that the school distributed a climate survey to the parents – a little over 100 parents – “and over 30 really expressed the severity of the bullying on that campus.

“These results show what the climate is like,” she said.

Dereck Brother and Ricardo Perez met with many of the parents during their search for a new principal.  The Vanguard was told that when the conversation shifted to climate concerns, they attempted to end the meeting, but the parents would not let them go without being heard.

Maria Clayton, DJUSD Public Information Officer, told the Vanguard she was unable to comment on specific situations or cases that involve student information or students.

She did verify that Cesar Chavez went without a without a counselor for the beginning of the year, when the counselor was on leave.

She said, “In January, Chavez hired a temporary part-time counselor and I can assure (you) that both the Chavez counselor and the district Prevention and Crisis counselor have provided social emotional supports to the Cesar Chavez Elementary this year.

“Parents at Chavez as well as parents from elementary programs across our district have called for more counseling services at our elementary schools. Currently, DJUSD funds a half-time counselor (.5 FTE) for every K-6 elementary program. In addition, some schools have chosen to spend soft money (e.g.- PTA/O funds, etc.) to fund more counseling hours for their campus,” she said.

She added, “While DJUSD provides more counseling support than most school districts at the elementary level, DJUSD Board of Education has made the Social emotional health of students a priority for our schools and DJUSD may consider augmenting elementary counseling in the future.”

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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    1. David Greenwald

      As one of the parents point out – this goes well beyond normal behavior.  It appears at the center of this may be some troubled kids.  The other problem is interim Principal combined with a part-time / half-time counselor who was on maternity leave.  Seems like a perfect storm.

  1. Howard P

    Where the heck are the teachers?

    I recall teachers dealing with this (growing up), including calling parents in to resolve, and only if that failed, did admin get involved… we had no school counselers at an elementary school site, much less full time.

    Guess CTA/DTA got that removed from job descriptions, and definitely not “other duties as may be required”… as a professional, in the public sector, I was expected to intervene and deal with friction between “subordinates” and co-workers.  Maybe Davis teachers do not have those professional expectations.

    Something smells here beyond the childrens’ behavior…

    1. David Greenwald

      My view on that is twofold.  First, this is a lot deeper than an issue that a teacher can address.  What I am seeing is some troubled kids and real emotional trauma, and a teacher is not equipped to handle that.  Second, you can kind of see why the teacher would not be particularly helpful – they are not seeing the behavior or only seeing the end of it, and the students who are victimized are not speaking up.  I had similar experiences in school where I was both on the giving and receiving end of it and teachers rarely caught the behavior.  Teachers are focused on teaching and disrupting the class to do this level of intervention is not something they can or should be doing.

    2. Tia Will


      I suspect that you may have been out of the educational loop for a while. My daughter has taught at both the grade school and high school levels for the past 4 years. It is not the expectation that the teachers will handle any disciplinary issues beyond maintaining order in the classroom. They certainly are not expected to deal with physical abuse or repetitive problems, or counseling issues, nor in my opinion are they qualified to.

  2. Ken A

    I agree with David “this is a lot deeper than an issue that a teacher can address”  but I also agree with the Oregon teacher (that got a lot of heat for saying it)  that “parents should teach their children to be less annoying if they’re being bullied”.  I know in a perfect world the football quarterback would spend time getting to know the geeky guys and ask them about their yokai card games and the artsy goth girls would spend time talking to the glam cheerleaders about the new issue of Teen VOGUE but that is never going to happen so kids that don’t hang out together should make an effort to be “less annoying” to each other.

    P.S. To any parents that have ever said: “My daughter, she’s not fat, but she’s been fat shamed.” it is time to stop fooling yourself and cut back on the amount of carbs and sugar in the house.  With the exception of the rare “joke” comment where someone will call a prima ballerina “chubby” or an NBA center “shorty” the kids that are “fat shamed” should lose some weight…


    1. David Greenwald

      I think you are missing several big points in your aside.

      First, it is not your job or another kid’s job to worry about someone else’s weight

      Second, doing so can make the problem worse

      Third, you’re being presumptive

      Fourth, You don’t have any information other than what she said at a meeting.

      Fifth, this hits particularly close to home because our six year old is on the large side, always has been.  But we watch him and have constantly communicated with the pediatrician about his weight.  The answer we have gotten constantly from a trained medical professional is to make sure he’s active, but he doesn’t need to lose weight.  So I would suggest you stay out of other people’s business when you have less than a full one of data because you don’t know.

      1. Ken A

        It is funny that a guy who has written many articles about “getting in to other people’s business about what their kids eat and drink” and childhood obesity is now saying the topic should not be discussed.

        Things are not as bad in Davis where parents are for the most part better educated and make better food choices for their kids but it makes me sad when I see so many kids today (especially poor kids) who are WAY above their healthy weight (something that was rare when I was kid when there were less video games and less crappy food pumped full of HFCS)…

        1. David Greenwald

          I said nothing of the sort. What I said, was you have very little information about a little girl who has been bullied and you are jumping to conclusions. That is VERY different from having a general discussion about nutrition or childhood obesity.

  3. Sharla C.

    This kind of thing has been going on forever.  A full time counselor may not be able to do anything to resolve this without the strong leadership of the Principal in leading a school-wide effort to establish a relatively decent school climate and set boundaries for behavior.  Children need to be given tools to deal with bullying and relationship difficulties other than “run and tell”.  Other children who are often witnesses and can be taught to stand up to the bullying of peers.   Instead of having the child who is bullied leave the classroom (interrupting her learning), a different solution needs to be found.   While I was PTA President at Emerson Jr. High, during an effort to improve the climate at that school, we found out that often student who vocally or even physically lashed out was often responding to harassment just prior and was actually the victim of  bullying and trying to defend themselves. Yet, this student often received the discipline – detentions or even suspension.   Childhood social life is really difficult, but parameters on behavior can be established at least at school.

  4. Robin W.

    This is not new. My daughter was victimized by mean girl bullies at two different Davis elementary schools 15-20 years ago. She went to an out-of-district charter school in junior high with other Davis kids who were victimized in Davis elementary schools.

    But just because the problem isn’t new does not mean it is ok for the district to continue to ignore it or treat it as “kids being kids.” It is outrageous. We’re talking about assaults for which adults could be arrested and their victims could get restraining orders. But the school district thinks it is ok to let kids abuse other kids like this?

    Having more counseling services would be nice for the victimized kids. But someone needs to take serious disciplinary actions against the mean girls and other bullies.

    Getting principals and teachers to act on these things requires a strong message from the top down — from the school board and the district office — mandating discipline against bullies and communicating to parents and kids what the disciplinary actions will look like.  It’s time for the adults at the top, who are theoretically in charge, to take real action to change this culture.

    1. Howard P

      Except Tia, David and others say it is not something teachers can or should get involved in…

      And I’m sure they’d disapprove of the way I discovered to defeat bullies… stand up to them, and humiliate them in front of their peers… figured that out in late fifth grade, and it works… used similar techniques in adult life.   It works…

      Bullies are generally insecure cowards… (except sociopaths, but that is something different)… they run a bluff… just like in poker you have to raise/call the bluff… takes some courage, but is effective… and it best works if the ‘victim’ and/or other peers call the bully out… the opposite of collaboration… confrontation…

      Find it interesting that one has said they have been on both sides of bullying and being the subject of bullying… wonder which came first…

  5. Ann Block

    Southern Poverty Law Center has a wonderful program addressing bullying, called “Teaching Tolerance” — I brought it to the Chavez principal (former principal now apparently) many years ago.  Has wonderful strategies to use in and outside the classroom to help bullies and the bullied stop these behaviors.  Our District should implement it district-wide.  Also, at the junior highs, where previously bullying seemed to mainly first arise for kids, Emerson started a peer-counseling program which spread and has been a wonderful asset to the District.  Recently, a teacher told me that Holmes had 2 facilitators come in from a program that worked with all the students in 2 separate sessions, and that they are still experiencing the “good” that came from that — which was an eye-opener for many students that had been mean to, or ignored their classmates.  The time to teach children to be civil and kind to each other is when they are children — look what happens when their parents don’t do that — they become bullies on a national level and enable and encourage others to do the same.

  6. Alan Miller

    > Southern Poverty Law Center has a wonderful program addressing bullying . . .

    There’s a wonderful movie that addresses dealing with bullies.  It’s called “Carrie”.

  7. Tia Will

    I agree with a the points made by both Robin and Ann. One additional point I would like to make. Children learn their behaviors from someone. Often it is from their parents or older sibs at home. I would encourage as part of any assessment considering whether or not there may be an abusive or adverse situation within the family. Perhaps someone older with difficulty with anger management, substance abuse or relationship difficulties that could be addressed.  Detection of ACEs ( Adverse Childhood Experiences) early can prevent a number of adverse mental and physical health problems later in life.

  8. David Greenwald

    Steve asked me to post this for him…


    Steve N

    My daughter currently attends Chavez, and is one of the girls mentioned in the article.  I’d like to clarify a few points.

    1) We have not been having problems with the interim principal.  I don’t think she is part of the problem.  In fact, she has been working hard to improve the culture at our school.

    2) We did not have an issue with our school’s counselor being on maternity leave.  We had an issue with DJUSD not hiring a temporary counselor to fill in during this time.  We have had good results when the counselor has been available.  We do need her to be there full time, plus another counselor.

    3) The main issue that I’ve heard about is the school culture.  I’ve heard stories from many parents about problems they have had at this school.  As Sharla C said, we hope to get strong leadership from the next principal to make improvements in this area.  We hope that a school-wide program to improve physical and emotional safety can be implemented, that includes not just teachers, but also the yard duty, front office, custodial, and all staff at school.  Some ideas: Kid Power, restorative justice, mindfulness training, Teaching Tolerance.

    4) The next issue is that we need a full time counselor to support this programming.

    5) This is also an issue at other Davis schools, now and in the past.  This doesn’t align with the values of our community.  As Robin W said, it needs to be addressed and supported by DJUSD across our schools.

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