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Tri-County Schools In Plainfield, WI Must Have Better Anti-Bullying Program

April 17, 2018

It took me some time to respond to this matter.  The reason being that I attended Tri-County Schools in Plainfield, Wisconsin, was bullied in my teenage years, and  suffered the loss of my 18-year-old best friend due to his suicide from bullying.  When I turned 50 years old, and after decades of keeping most of the story to myself, I decided a chapter about that time was required in my first book.   I can get rather emotional over the topic of bullying and therefore wanted to take time to place the events at my former high school into a constructive fashion.

In March a student at the school made a social media threat that was supposedly to have been “funny”.  Obviously the school nor the parents took the matter lightly.  A school board meeting was held where public input was taken on many aspects of this incident.  As we all know the issue at hand is one that too many schools have had to deal with over the years.

One of the parents addressed the board on the topic of bullying and the need to be mindful of its impact on students.    It was then Plainfield Police Chief Kevin Fenske spoke.  The Waushara Argus reported in its April 5, 2018 edition that Fenske made the following comments.

“I listen to the bullying thing and I am not going to disagree that it doesn’t go on, but what always upsets me is that I am in that building four days a week. Nobody ever comes to me.

The two or three cases that have come to me, it stopped. But nobody ever comes to me. I am there four days a week, somedays five days a week. But nobody ever comes to me. So, that is why I get frustrated. That is why I am over here shaking my head. Nobody comes to me.”

After reading those words I knew a response was required.

I find it absolutely unacceptable for an individual tasked with responding to bullying issues to think that the person who is being bullied should knock on a door and ask for a conference.  That is not the way those who are under assault from bullying, be it verbal or physical, respond in such situations.  I am somewhat stunned that in 2018 it appears the same problem exists as it played out in my high school years of the late 1970s.

Teachers know full well what takes place in their classrooms, the antics that occur in hallways, or in the lunch room.  It is not the bullied student who should be making first contact with the police chief, but the educators who have the background, experience, and skill set to intervene on behalf of those bullied.

In my book Walking Up The Ramp I wrote about the role of teachers regarding those who are bullied.

I could never just go to school. I always needed to think two steps ahead, to think about my path to wherever I was headed, especially if I was not in the circle of my friends. If I was sure some of the bullies were lined along the hallway paths, or lingering by their lockers I walked around them. There were times in the early part of my freshman year I actually exited the school from one door and entered through another to avert someone wishing to punch me, or shove me inside a locker. In addition to the way to navigate around those who were bullies, I also needed to find ways to shore up my emotional side, and not lose more of my inner self to them.   While I needed to avoid more abuse from bullies in school, I also needed to avoid the embarrassment of going home and trying to explain how something like this happened to me. I needed at all costs to my teenage pride, which is very fragile for any one at that age, to avoid admitting to my parents that I was not able to stand up to, and defeat those who tormented me. I hated being thin, and hated that I was not able to protect myself.

There is no way to overstate the disgust felt when entering a classroom, and being targeted with truly despicable words tossed about from those already seated while a teacher sits at a desk pretending to be a million miles away. There is no way to understand how it feels to be a small-framed guy, and yet urged by well-meaning peers—some really nice acquaintances—to go and clean the smile off the bully’s face. They clearly understood the injustice of it, the incivility of it, and proposed a route perhaps to remedy it.

The fall of my freshman year, I had found a way to dodge those upperclassmen during lunch.   The easiest way was just to avoid the lunchroom. Of course, this did not help my being a small guy. Early in my freshman year I found a nook in the corner of the old school near the elementary entrance, and just simply waited for the noon hour to be over. A few times my cousin who was a schoolteacher passed with her brood of students and nodded. Those were hard days to get through, but when I found an exit strategy I employed it.

That educator, who was even an extended family member, along with all the others who knew what was happening never once reached out to me or to someone in power within the school administration to make the bulling come to an end.

If I read the words correctly from Fenske it would seem the same dynamics are still in play.  He knows bullying is taking place, and that means educators at the school do as well.  And yet….  And yet.

The damage from bullying has been well documented in a number of ways over the years.   We also are aware of the means to address it.  I would hope and trust that in this time of national dialogue surrounding bullying, and those impacted, that more school boards and educators at all schools–but especially rural ones–will be more earnest in addressing it.

21 Comments leave one →
  1. Carol Campbell permalink
    April 23, 2018 8:44 AM

    My daughter attends Tri County as a freshman we moved here when she was in kindergarten. She to gets bullied I have noticed her getting more an more withdrawn an depressed hides in her room most of the time doesn’t eat anything at school most of the time goes to a teacher’s room at lunch time we’ve been to the principles office an he watches the security footage an usually ended up blaming Alexis for said bullying becuz she makes eye contact becuz these are nice girls. She was a cheerleader with tri county an the cheerleader were nasty to her an the couches aloud it these girls also happen to be Hispanic so I really don’t think anything will ever be done. The bullying also included cyber bullying an it is so hard watching her go through this. On my messages i have a pic of alexis that was sent to her on snapchat of her with a knife through her head these are nice girls alright an i do take that pic as a direct threat on her life congrats tri county your raising a whole new generation of bullies hope your proud of yourselves

  2. Liza permalink
    April 22, 2018 1:36 PM

    Bologna! We did everything possible to stop the bullying as students and parents… Even holding a radio broadcast about it… With us victims speaking it about it, along for help.. People have died and continue to want death as a relief/escape. Not one single person at that school did a thing to stop it.
    The police were notified; they wouldn’t help because them their children would become targets.
    It’ll never stop; until there are punishments for their actions.

  3. jamesrwilson permalink
    April 22, 2018 1:14 PM

    Jerry Knutson

    I did not grow up in Wisconsin, nor did I attend Tri-County schools. I can say, however, that I have met a good number of people who did, having married a proud Tri-County Penguin. Tri-County is not unique though in facing the pandemic that is bullying. I grew up horribly bullied in my small rural high school in Maine as well… sixty-nine kids in my graduating class from five different towns. The solution to bullying is never as facile as the one that you are proposing here. Never. Changing a school culture is difficult and takes work. Conscious effort. Most importantly, it takes a desire to see change, from the school board right on down to the teaching assistants and families who send their kids there.

    I am dismayed, as someone who spent twenty-one years in front of the classroom, to read your comments. I think, however, from a professional point of view, that we are able to see some of the inherent flaws in your arguments and why the situation, as is alleged here in other comments, has not improved at the Tri-County High School since the 1980s.

    I think it stems first and foremost from the complete and utter abdication of responsibility from members of the community who elect school board members who would write to the victim of bullying, “Look in the mirror and ask yourself if you have brought any of this on yourself.” That has to be a joke. Shaming the victim is most certainly not the answer, nor does it teach the resiliency that one needs to be able to “survive” (which in itself implies that school is a gauntlet, rather than a supportive learning environment) to be an adult.

    You write, “I am in 100% dissagreement with the gentlemans perspecitve on you “cant tell someone”. That is 100% wrong. You must, and you can. Officer Fenske is there to help you. The principal and super are there to help you. The teachers are there to help you. The school board is there to help you. But if we dont know, and we cant see, we cannot help.”

    In all the years I was growing up, it was far too easy for faculty to be watching kids torment the smart kids, the gay kids, the kids who were different by pretending not to see anything and turn around and find something to keep them busy in their classroom. See something, say nothing, there is less paperwork and less confrontation with parents—and by extension with administrators who will inevitably choose the wrong side. It was always too easy to hear comments like “That’s so gay!” or “You’re such a wuss”, and more and not have any of the adults in the room stop and make a teachable moment from that. Language matters. And it isn’t just affecting students. As a classroom teacher, I was subject to administrators who would let me know that I was never to meet with a student in private because I am a gay man and people might talk—a discussion, mind you, that administrator never had once with a straight faculty person.

    There is indeed help out there. Education. As a school board administrator who feels that the following is an appropriate response to bullying, you may yourself want to seek out the resources you need to make a difference in your community: “Find and make a network of friends. Not everyone will be your friend. But you have to make some, otherwise, you go this alone, and that part, is on you and you alone. Making friends is not easy. Keeping friends is not easy. If you have not made any friends, that is your own issue, and at that point you cannot really blame anyone else other than yourself. You cannot buy friends.”

    I would recommend that you start with https://www.stopbullying.gov This is a resource provided by the US Government. It’s home page is absolutely correct: “When adults respond quickly and consistently to bullying behavior they send the message that it is not acceptable.” No where on the website will you see them advocate telling kids to accept responsibility for the treatment they are receiving. What you will find are some real definitions to help you distinguish between playful banter (which is only playful if both sides are participating), and abusive behavior. As a side note, the child silently taking in the abuse, that is the one being bullied–that is the one who is not likely to seek out a solution from an adult who is witnessing the act of humiliation and doing nothing, but rather be the one to further close in on him or herself as a way to protect what shred of humanity is left in tact.

    I would recommend strongly that you encourage a GSA, a gay-straight alliance, in your schools. 10% , at a very minimum, of your population is being harassed for being gay, whether they realize yet that they are or not. https://gsanetwork.org/resources/building-your-gsa/10-steps-starting-gsa This organization lays out a plan to do just that. These groups are important not only for gay kids, but for the straight kids who are in class with them. These groups foster a supportive and caring environment where every child can learn without fear. Encouraging tolerance and acceptance is powerful.

    Lastly, as a taxpayer in this State, I encourage you to use the MANY resources that are available to you and your fellow board members at the Department of Public Instruction. They have an Equity Council there and curricula materials free of charge to schools in need. https://dpi.wi.gov/ They can work with you to build a plan to change the environment in your school. The first step, is of course, that you recognize that you need the help. Pro-tip: YOU SERIOUSLY DO!

  4. April 22, 2018 12:04 PM

    Jerry Knutson,

    I posted your comments as I think they are a way to show how much work needs to be done when it comes to stopping those who bully and assisting those who are bullied. I am rather stunned, with you being a school board member, by the message you sent.

    The reason I responded to the Argus reporting is that the problem, which I experienced in the 1970’s, is still one that needs to be resolved! Get over your sense of outrage that your school is being called into question. The only priority you should have is to the students in that building and not some sense of pride.

    My family has roots in Coloma since 1853 and a portion of the home in Hancock where I grew up was built before the Civil War. I attended all my public school years in the Hancock and Plainfield schools. Like many people who graduate from Tri-County I sought education and employment outside the place of my youth. I have worked in radio broadcasting, and then years in politics at the statehouse in Madison. My living 90 miles way is not in any way a factor. I have had a strong commitment over the years to making changes for young people as I feel that is my obligation. That is the reason I wrote my post.

    I do have skin in the game. That skin was the suicide of an 18 year old who was my best friend. He was bullied at Tri-County and it left a very lasting mark. I was bullied repeatedly and in front of teachers. One of the chapters in my book is dedicated to this time in my life.

    Soon after moving to Madison I became a Big Brother and then I also made another effort to be of help to other troubled kids. In my book I wrote about it this way.

    “Years later after leaving the statehouse I worked as a program director for a non-profit that arranged for mentors to be placed with teenagers who were already in group homes. If these young teens did not set their paths in a more positive direction, things were surely to get worse. Part of my job was to speak with the teenagers, and do an assessment for placement with a mentor. One of the first to sit in the office with me looked every part the average male teenager. He was in a group home, which demonstrated to me that there was a lot going on behind those eyes, even if the eyes seemingly only reflected the lights of the office. I never anticipated, however, the words he spoke in such a plain and powerful way when responding to a question as to why he wanted a mentor. It was not so he could get away from the group home, or catch a burger or pizza, or even toss a football at a park. No, the reason this young man wanted a mentor was distinct. With all seriousness, he declared: “I want someone to talk with; I want someone to hear what I have to say.”

    For me hearing those words rang like a stark bell. It was what I had felt at his age. The very thing that I needed at one time in my life so very much, and was unable to articulate the need for, or attain was what this troubled teenager was so simply able to state. This time there was an adult who was listening to what was being said. I was not about to let the ball drop. If there is a lesson to be learned anywhere within this chapter let it be to make sure that bullying is never allowed to happen, and to make sure the young people in our life have at least one person who is always there to listen, and be non-judgmental. It must be recognized that bullying happens in large part because first there is a bully who taunts, demeans, and harms another be it in psychical or emotional ways. But there also needs to be a clear recognition that those who bully are often allowed to do so because there are others who witness such acts and never take the initiative to make sure that it does not continue.”

    One of the most important changes in many of our schools—and something I advocated for in Madison many years ago—are GSAs, Gay Straight Alliances. The goal of most of these alliances is to make a school community safe while creating a welcoming environment for all students. As this alliance approach proves, many of the answers to the problems start with common sense attitudes about how we treat others. These alliances show us that we should echo how we ourselves wish to be treated. We are back to the ‘Golden Rule’ again. I wish my best friend could have found some way to hang on, and had a better support network, which I acknowledge with much reflection over the years should have included myself. I was floundering too, and yet wish I could have been better equipped to offer insight to his state of mind, or provided sounder advice, and a more hopeful message to impart. I have carried guilt about this for years. There is never an answer to these questions, and yet over time I have asked them.

    I would hope that you might reflect on the words of your comment and take to heart the needs of those students are being bullied at Tri-County and need you help.

  5. Jerry permalink
    April 22, 2018 11:06 AM

    What have you done to make it a better place?

    I am out of sorts, and disgusted with the latest postings on facebook about TC School. Everyone seems to have a story, an axe to grind, but the question is, what have you done to make it a better place?
    Bullying is wrong. But it has been around since the age of the stoneman. I believe that it is built in our DNA. I also believe that it is done for posturing, positioning, and for kids trying to become the alpha male, or female in their small groups.
    Bullying has also changed since the 1970’s. It now is harder to discover thru social media, cell phones, and other technological advancements.
    And lets not forget, that the power of the PEN is a bullying device as well. Facebook has given people the ability to stand behind a computer wall, and be a bully with a keyboard.
    Bullying is also hard to define. What one person defines it as, another wont. So it is a moving target. I find it fascinating that some kids who got bullied in school, became great, well liked members of society later, likewise, i see many kids who were bullied in school, became bullies in their grown up life. It works both ways.
    It truely saddened me to see this letter get circulated 40 years after the fact, and from 90 miles away, basically like throwing a hand gernade at the town of plainfield from a distance. There was no mention of solutions, or help, just a plain ol gernade.
    Being a H.S. student from the early 80’s, i too, lived thru that generation. I agree that those types of things happened, to me included. I got thru it. As i look back now, and meet with my classmates at reunions, we tend to laugh and chuckly about the situations now. I remember teachers being able to make students face a chalkboard, kneel on marbles, and get hit with rulers when they were being rude or unruley in class. Not any more. Cant do it.
    As a parent of a child who is getting bullied in class as I write this, i am fully aware of the situation. So dont think i dont have some “skin” in this game.
    My advise to kids in this situation, unlike the post that was written by the prior TC student, who i completely disagree with on many points made, is this:

    1.There ARE people in that building, teachers, support staff, administration, and board members, who will listen to you, help you, and find solutions to the problems. BUT YOU HAVE TO SAY SOMETHING. We cannot read your mind. We cannot follow social media for obvious reasons. SAY SOMETHING. Officer Fenske is a WONDERFUL resource. Use him.

    2. Hey kids, you complain about this situation in your school. Have ANY OF YOU, ANY, stepped up to stop situations? You’re the ones living it every single day. You want to grow up and be contribuiting members of society? Do you part, and if you see something or are aware of something SAY SOMETHING, OR STOP IT. If not, your part of the problem, not the solution.

    3. Where is the parental guidance in all of this. Especially from the perpetrators side? The writer is quick to point out, and throw under the bus, the teachers, administration, and school board, but just like any other time, forget to point the finger at the perpetrator, and the parental units that have raised that individual and obviously condone that type of behavior.

    4. Find and make a network of friends. Not everyone will be your friend. But you have to make some, otherwise, you go this alone, and that part, is on you and you alone. Making friends is not easy. Keeping friends is not easy. If you have not made any friends, that is your own issue, and at that point you cannot really blame anyone else other than yourself. You cannot buy friends.

    5. Look in the mirror and ask yourself if you have brought any of this on yourself. As a parent of a child who does #5 from time to time, we constantly discuss that he brings some of this on himself thru his actions, and his words. Does not make the action of bullying right, but why put yourself into the situation possibility?

    YOU MUST find a way to fight back bullying. And also remember, there is no true definition of bullying.

    I am in 100% dissagreement with the gentlemans perspecitve on you “cant tell someone”. That is 100% wrong. You must, and you can. Officer Fenske is there to help you. The principal and super are there to help you. The teachers are there to help you. The school board is there to help you. But if we dont know, and we cant see, we cannot help.

    As for the other lashing commentary last night, again, go thru the proper channels if you had an issue. I am slightly aware of the situation from discussion with my son about it. There is no need to air dirty laundry on social media. We are truley trying to make this school a better place, and we have graduated ALOT of very successful kids from here.

    I am proud of our school. Its not perfect. None are. But for what walks in our door as 4 year olds, and the difficult situations they come from, i am amazed at what, for the most part, walks down that podium to get a diploma.

    Ask yourself the question. Are you part of the problem, or part of a solution?

    Ask yourself another question. Do you participate and step in when you see something wrong, or do you just “move on” like you saw nothing, and say nothing.

    There are many, MANY areas of need in our school for parental involvement, in both education, and sports. Drop your pens, drop your swords, drop the “cant change” “never changes” mentality, and HELP. Donate your time, Donate your talents. Donate your support. Donate your ideas. You all have so many behind the computer screen.

    Rant over. Stop it. Be a solution.

    Jerry Knutson.

  6. Jerry permalink
    April 22, 2018 11:03 AM

    I am going to add some positive spin to this document, as all I see are negatives, and no offers of help for solutions.
    As a 1980s graduate of TC, I too got picked on (I am not going to refer to it as bullying, because I believe that is a broad based term that everyone has differences of definition of).
    Secondly, I have an ADHD child that gets picked on. So I have skin in this game here too. (Read my copied response for more).
    Third, I am on the school board in which you all pointed us out. So I have more skin in this game(Again, refer to my copied post for more).
    I am sick of seeing people throw negatives about our school on public forums. Yes, TC is not perfect, no school is. I think we have churned out ALOT of excellent students and community members over the years, especially considering the issues and problems challenges that walk into that building as 4 yr olds.
    Our goal should be to perfect everyone and every thing? You guys expect miracles.
    I see NOTHING from anyone posting here of offering help and assistance. Unless I am missing something, I recognize no one that has offered to be on past or present committees to address issues at TC and offer solutions to benefit the now and future. I see ax grinders, and stone throwing. In 40 years, bullying, or picking on, has changed form, and like a gas leak, can be very difficult to detect, which is why I so vehemently disagree with the can’t tell or won’t tell discussion.
    I as a board member, am here to help. But I cannot address what I can’t see, and don’t hear. I am NOT a mind reader. I REFUSE to sit there and judge someone’s comments to another as bullying, picking on, or their form of playful banter between each other.
    It’s time for people to committ their energy and talents into change for the better, not to continue to bury hatchets in the backs of people here now, trying to help, from issues 30 years ago.
    Bullying is wrong. So to, is continually bashing an entire building and staff when you don’t say something.
    I want to know if people just want to continue to grind axes and grab swords, or if they want to do the right thing, and actually come forward with their time and talents and physically help?

  7. Brandon C. permalink
    April 19, 2018 8:42 AM

    I also went to TC and graduated not that long ago. Although High School was not as bad for me as I was bigger than a lot of the kids, the problem was horrible for me in middle school. I would come home and complain about it every day to my parents and they would take the matter to the principal and/or teachers. While it had some effects innitially it was never fully resolved. It only finally stoped when my parents told me to stop trying to ignore it (this had been their advice for years) and to use my size to do something about it. This should never have to be an option for kids as not everyone has size on their side like I did. Also, having to defend myself from bullies like this lead me to sometimes become a bully myself as a way to 1) protect myself from bullying and 2) simply in anger at the way I was treated. Honestly, I hated myself for this, but never did anything to change it until I was out of that environment and didn’t have to deal with those people anymore. Honestly it took me until college to become a person that I could really be proud of in more than just accomplishments, but in how I treated others. This is something that students should not have to go through and it does have to do with teachers as well. Teachers have to step up and be the ones to do something, as the parents only have so much ability to control what goes on. As to what they can do, as an educator myself, I can say that schools are constantly trying to implement new systems to stop and prevent bullying. Again, this only goes so far, and the teachers need to carry out what they learn at these staff developments and conferences by utilizing it in the classroom, on the playground and after school.

  8. Samantha Howard-Windsor permalink
    April 19, 2018 5:10 AM

    i also went to this school and was bullied but nothing was ever done because the billies were from well know families its not right that they are taking the aggressors side

  9. Brenda Uplinger permalink
    April 18, 2018 6:24 PM

    Tri County sucked as a school. If you didn’t belong to the popular crowd you were bullied not only by the students but by the staff as well When I was there the teachers I had were also the teachers that had my parents. It is time for a complete change at Tri County from the staff to the board. Students deserve better.

  10. John Cooper permalink
    April 18, 2018 4:00 PM

    As a 1960 graduate of Tri HI, I am saddened to read the accounts of bullying. While I can not say with 100% certainty that there was not isolated incidents where someone was bullied, I can say with a great deal of pride that Tri Hi in the 50s was a place where there just simply did not seem to be cliques. The most popular students were often the most friendly and inclusive students. Our faculty and student body was dedicated to ensuring that everyone was treated well. I implore all faculty and students to once again make certain TRI County High School is a place where everyone feels welcome and of equal importance.

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