BROOKSVILLE — Taylor Heidt squirmed behind the podium Tuesday evening, tossing her hair in her hands. Her voice quivered.
She had a message for the Hernando County School Board: Make the bullying stop.
"I've been bullied before," the 14-year-old West Hernando Middle School student said. "I am still getting bullied. I hate the bullying. I want it to stop."
Taylor talked about how her friends are bullied. She said they turn to teachers, but very little is done to help them. As a result, she said, some have resorted to cutting themselves. Some have considered suicide.
"I'm just done with the bullying," Taylor said. "My friends are done.
"There's too many people that have tried to commit suicide," she said during an emotional speech to the board.
Taylor was one of about 50 people who came to Tuesday night's meeting to speak out about bullying in the schools in the wake of the suicide of 12-year-old Miguel Rodriguez of Spring Hill.
Miguel, a West Hernando student, hanged himself in his bedroom in January.
His mother, Jeanette McCants, says it was because of bullying. A Sheriff's Office report released Friday, however, found no evidence of bullying at school and said it did not contribute to his death.
McCants attended the Tuesday meeting, sitting in the audience. She tearfully left before it ended. She did not speak. She has not returned calls from the Times since the Sheriff's Office report came out Friday.
But the report didn't hold much weight with those who came out to speak before the board.
They wanted to get their stories out in an effort to increase awareness.
Coralys Amaya, a 13-year-old Powell Middle School student, said she sees a lot of people getting bullied at her school, but doesn't speak up because she doesn't want to get the other person in trouble.
"I think you guys should do more work to help it stop because sometimes people don't really want to tell on the people who are doing the bullying," she told the School Board.
Samantha Heidt, who has three children in the Hernando school system and recently started an organization known as Hernando Against Bullying, said many kids are unwilling to speak out.
"The bullying issue is getting to the point where our children are afraid to open their mouths," she said.
That's why she started the new group, she said — to help children speak up.
"If our children are silenced every time they come to the office with some kind of issue, after a while they're not going to go to the office anymore," she said. "This is what is happening."
Heidt said there needs to be better communication among staff members to do a better job of recognizing bullying and taking the necessary actions.
Superintendent Bryan Blavatt, in his brief responses to comments, tried to strike an understanding tone. He asked people to share more information with district staffers after the meeting.
"None of this is ever taken lightly," Blavatt told Heidt. "Everything has to be investigated, and everything has to be dealt with."
He said that while the district has developed a bullying policy and provided training for staff, "there's always an opportunity to get better."
"If we're going to get a handle on the bullying," he said, "it's going to be one student at a time."
Danny Valentine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1432. On Twitter: @HernandoTimes.