SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - The numbers are staggering: One in four students report being the victims of bullying in our schools, according to government figures. And the Ark-La-Tex isn't immune. Just ask a 12-year old girl who told us she endured nearly 20-minutes trapped inside a locker before cheerleading tryouts.
Elm Grove Middle School 6th grader Abigail Herring just wanted to be part of a team and in the process feel accepted. Instead, the exact opposite happened. Now, she and her family blame who they describe as real-life bullies.
During a stop to KSLA News 12, Abigail Herring demonstrated how she had to sit while inside that locker inside the girl's dressing room last week, while awaiting her chance to tryout. "I was like, down like this. (She kneeled down)."
Herring said she did not go into the locker voluntarily. "No, they kind of like walked toward me and like, 'til I basically fell and then they picked my feet up and shut the door on me," recalled Herring. She said another cheerleader stood guard during the nearly 20 minutes. "They threw trash in there. So, I threw it back out."
"We take it very, very seriously," insisted Elm Grove Principal Bobby Marlow, referring to the issue of bullying. He told us the school's resource officer completed a thorough investigation, "and what bullying would be is when somebody is repeatedly affected in a negative way by someone."
Marlow described what happened to Abigail Herring as an unofficial tradition he knew nothing about. "Evidently, it had gone on for several years where a girl would get in a locker for good luck on the tryouts."
Herring experienced no luck in the tryouts, or in the subsequent results of the school's internal investigation. Principal Marlow concluded, "The investigation didn't indicate there was any bullying or hazing, it was more of a tradition-type thing."
Try telling that to Herring's mother, who now worries the offer to make her daughter the mascot could make it even worse. "These other girls, they're laughing at school right now and it's going on right now. If they're laughing at her, what are they going to do on the sidelines," worried Cindy Herring.
She's now filed a criminal complaint of her own with the Bossier Sheriff's Office about what happened to her daughter. For her part, Abigail Herring still holds out hope the school district will eventually do something. "I think there should be something done because in the cheerleading packet it says bullying will mean dismissal from the squad."
The principal did say that so-called tradition will never happen again, a small victory for herring and her mother. "I don't want anyone else (to) have to go through what I did." Principal Marlow added that students are educated about the consequences of bullying twice a year.
And just today (Friday, April 9) during our visit, a city marshal arrived at the school to speak with parents and students - with one of the topics dealing with bullying via the internet like through Myspace, or Facebook. We're told the timing of the meeting was merely a coincidence.