Parents hold meeting to discuss concerns about bullying at Temecula Valley Unified schools

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Parents share some of their concerns about Temecula Valley Unified at The Empowerment Center Nov. 6. Will Fritz photo

Parents frustrated with what they said is inaction on the part of the Temecula Valley Unified School District regarding bullying met Wednesday a west Temecula business to discuss their concerns and come up with recommendations to bring to the school district.

Several parents at the meeting Wednesday night said they have attempted to address bullying directed at their children, who attend various Temecula Valley Unified schools, for years with little success.

The gathering was organized by Dave and Alicia Vialpando, who say one child who is now in college and another who is just starting high school have both experienced bullying problems at Great Oak High School. The Vialpandos said they have complained to administrators multiple times.

The Empowerment Center, a nonprofit run that provides free and low-cost youth programs, hosted the meeting. Tiffany Baker, The Empowerment Center’s founder, said she wanted to offer “Switzerland” for the meeting – a neutral place for every member of the community, from parents to law enforcement and educators, to offer their experiences with bullying and possible solutions.

Baker did say that while her organization has partnered with other school districts in the region in differing capacities, Wednesday night’s meeting was the first time she has had any involvement with the Temecula Valley Unified School District – some of the school district’s school resource officers spoke at the meeting, and some district representatives were present in an unofficial capacity and did not speak.

“Temecula has been a very difficult place to access,” Baker said. “I’ve been in Temecula since 2002 and this is the first time the school district and the community has come together in such a manner and we’ve been offering opportunities. So I’m happy that we’re here but I’m saddened that it took so long to get here.”

The Vialpandos say they have tried to get Great Oak administrators to address bullying directed at their children for years, with no success.

“We as parents, I think we’re all here because we’re not being notified,” Alicia Vialpando said. “We find out and we’ve known about the situation and we go to the school and we do the chain of command and constantly go to the school, and the principal – excuse my French – but blows smoke up your ass and tells you what you what you want to hear.”

Riverside County sheriff’s Sgt. Daniel Hernandez, who serves as a school resource officer for the district, was at the meeting to answer some questions from parents about law enforcement’s role in stopping bullying at local schools. But, he said, there is a limit to what school resource officers can do. For one, many bullying incidents aren’t actually criminal and can only be handled by the schools.

Law enforcement also can’t do anything if they are not contacted, Hernandez said.

“Every time we get notified of an incident, then we’ll come out. That’s the difference,” he said.

One woman said law enforcement were not contacted when her child was involved in a fight at Erle Stanley Gardner Middle School.

“I was called and told my son got in a fight – he was at the nurse’s station, which required a trip to the emergency room,” she said. “My son was scared to go back to school.”

Hernandez told parents if they find themselves in a similar situation, they should call police themselves, rather than wait for the school to do it.

“If you’re not getting or you feel that they’re not accomplishing what you expect from the school, you still have the opportunity to pick up the phone and call the police,” he said. “Once you pick up that phone and call, an incident file is created.”

Tiffany Baker and Dave Vialpando address a room full of parents at The Empowerment Center in Temecula Nov. 6. Will Fritz photo

Dave Vialpando said he would like to get Temecula Valley Unified to approve policy changes for how the district deals with bullying, and plans to have a second meeting on Nov. 20, also at The Empowerment Center, to finalize specific recommendations to bring forward to the school board.

“The goal is to take what we develop as parents to the district in terms of policy and procedure changes, get it on the agenda, let’s have some discussion and then if it’s on the agenda it’s an action item,” he said. “The board can actually vote to adopt it not adopt it, modify it.”

In response to the parents’ meeting, Temecula Valley Unified spokeswoman Laura Boss said district representatives appreciated the opportunity to attend and listen to concerns shared by parents.

“We were inspired by the attendees’ passion, initiative, and interest in partnering with the district to explore and develop strategies and solutions to address bullying,” Boss’s statement said. “This is a family, school, (and) community issue and we need to work together.”

A second meeting is planned for Nov. 20, and Dave Vialpando said he hopes to get a plan before the school district next month.