I thought about Sandy Pulliam after that awful story about the sexual assault and bullying at Walker Middle School.
Pulliam, 36, of Westchase, has three sons in middle school. I met her while writing about the one with Asperger's syndrome, a condition that impedes social skills and makes kids ripe for ridicule.
Cody was bullied so much that, though super-smart, he now attends a charter school for kids with special needs.
Pulliam's other sons also have gotten into scrapes, and she has spent a good bit of time with principals and school resource deputies.
From those experiences, she offers this advice:
Talk to your children.
"Every single day, and ask them what's going on," she said. If they are being victimized, "you can usually see by their facial expressions. You know your kid. If something is bothering them, you need to let them know you are on their side."
If you know the perpetrator, consider contacting his or her parents.
"A lot of the time, the parents have no idea what their kids are doing." During one such encounter, Pulliam invited the child over to spend the night with her son. "They had the best time."
Contact the school, even if your child asks you not to.
"The kids don't need to know that [someone's] mommy came to school," she said. "The school needs to handle it by saying, 'I've seen somebody report it that you have been doing this.' "
In other words, you can insist on discretion and assure your child that you will do your best to protect his anonymity. But you cannot let him talk you out of taking action, because the problem will not go away by itself.
Be firm with school officials.
"Let them know that you are willing to press charges, even if a child was pushed." She did exactly that when someone punched her child below the belt. "Kids need to know that there are consequences," she said.
If an administrator says, "We can talk to him and let him know if it happens again … ," Pulliam's response is, "No. Next time it happens, he could kill my son."
Make sure your kids have told you the whole story.
"I let them know very firmly, 'You know your mom's going to the school. And if I find out that you are lying to me or sugarcoating, the consequences for you will be a lot worse than any bully could do.' "
This next bit of advice was mine, and Pulliam agreed with it:
Get to know the people who work at the school, so you know whom to call for results.
It might be a resource deputy or assistant principal. It will vary from school to school, but know who has a clue.
Don't be the lady in the YouTube video.
"The parent has to be verbal and strong with the school, not rude and ugly; smart about their words, know what their resources are and what they can do, and they need to not be afraid to do it," she said.
"Once the school realizes that you will not back down, they will become a lot more pro-active."
There are all kinds of good people working in the schools. And there are some who aren't paying attention, or are just plain unlucky.
"It is unrealistic that they will protect every child," Pulliam said. "But as soon as something comes to light, they need to be on it.''
Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 269-5307 or firstname.lastname@example.org.