, Port Arthur, Texas

April 2, 2013

Parents react to bullying at Memorial High School

Erinn Callahan
The Port Arthur News

PORT ARTHUR — By Erinn Callahan

The News staff writer

It is widely known that misbehavior at school can lead to consequences — a lecture from the principal, a phone call to parents, an after-school detention, or even suspension.

Antone Godeaux has something a little more serious in mind.

“They need to press criminal charges on kids that behave that way,” Godeaux said. “I’m not talking about classes on weekends, anger management — I’m talking about jail time. That will keep them from going to prison later.”

Godeaux is determined to make his opinion heard. On Tuesday, the Port Arthur Political Action Front — a local political action committee of which Godeaux is the director — organized a protest in front of the Port Arthur Independent School District administration building, 4801 9th Ave., to voice their concerns about the district’s reaction to two incidents of bullying that occurred at Memorial High School in the same week.

“I’d heard about a lot of things going on in the schools, and I’ve seen fights,” said Godeaux, whose stepdaughter attends Memorial. “I saw the pictures, and they were so graphic. I was just thinking, ‘What if my stepdaughter came home like that?’”

For Juan and Guadalupe Canales, the situation is not hypothetical. Two weeks ago, they said, their 16-year-old son was assaulted by a group of three or four male classmates while waiting for the buses after school. When their 18-year-old daughter attempted to intervene, she also became a target.

Juan Canales said the school did not notify him of his children’s injuries until 45 minutes after the incident occurred. By that time, his daughter had been knocked unconscious, and she and her brother were heavily bruised all over their bodies. Both students were taken to the hospital, where it was determined the girl had sustained a broken cheekbone. According to Juan Canales, the school did not file a police report until last week.

 “The next day, we contacted the principal, and the only thing he said he can do is suspend them for a couple of days,” Juan Canales said. “Then nobody would talk to me. I went to the constable’s office and nobody wanted to see me over there. The school sent me to the constable, and the constable sent me to the school. I tried to make an appointment with Dr. Brown, but he’s never here.”

Juan and his wife also claim that the school misled them about the security that was on hand at the time of the assault, said Efrain Arendano, an investigator hired by the Canales family. The school claimed that there were multiple security guards and school officials on duty. In reality, Arendano said, there was only an off-duty Port Arthur Police Department officer and one school monitor.

“Out of 800, 900 students, that’s it? You’re going to have a monitor and one cop?” Arendano said.

While there are functioning cameras on Memorial’s campus, Arendano said the cameras do not cover the area where the incident occurred.

Juan Canales said the only option he was offered was to withdraw his children from PAISD and enroll them in a private school — an option, Juan said, that is not financially feasible.

 “Why should they transfer schools when it’s not their problem?” Arendano said. “It’s the school district’s problem.”

PAISD Deputy Superintendent Mark Porterie said that school policy was followed regarding the students who instigated the physical conflict.

“Mr. (Calvin) Rice, principal of Memorial High School, has overseen the investigation of each incident and has followed the district's discipline policy in dealing with the students,” Porterie said. “We understand and appreciate parents’ concern for their children, and we’ll continue working with the entire staff to ensure that students are safe. We’re going to continue to teach children how to make better choices and improve communication between teachers and students so that when these things happen, students will feel comfortable telling us. That’s something we need to do not just in this district, but across the United States, because often students don’t report these incidents.”

Arendano and the Canales family planned to speak out at the March 28 school board meeting but they said they were denied that opportunity.

“Apparently you’re supposed to let them know by noon that you want to be on the agenda that day. We didn’t know about that,” Arendano said. “I found out at 2 p.m., and when I tried to call, I couldn’t get anybody. I was getting the runaround. There have been exceptions in the past, but this time, they didn’t want any exceptions.”

Linda Davis can identify with the Canales family’s plight. Her 17-year-old nephew, who has been diagnosed with several learning disabilities, has always been the target of abuse from his classmates. But two weeks ago, on a Friday, he returned home from school with multiple bruises and a knot forming on the back of his head. When Davis inquired about what had happened, her nephew told her he had been jumped by at least six male students in the gymnasium that morning before school. Much to Davis’ horror, the incident had been captured on video.

“I couldn’t stand to keep seeing the video,” she said. “They kept playing it over and over.”

Much like the Canales family, Davis said she was met with resistance from the administration. This week, the STAAR test is being administered at all public schools statewide, and Davis requested that her nephew take it at a separate facility to avoid conflict with other students. Her request was shot down, she said.

 “I cried, and I tried to plead with everybody,” Davis said. “I said, ‘Can he just take the test at the administration building, away from the kids?’ They acted like it was a joke. They weren’t trying to help me. They said, ‘They’re not going to be getting into it because there will be teachers there.’ I said, ‘There were teachers there when they jumped him.’”

Davis said a voice can be heard on the video, telling the students to sit down. But to her knowledge, no teacher or school official attempted to intervene while her nephew was being attacked.

Arendano said that to his knowledge, six fights have ensued since the Canales family’s incident.

 “It’s not a high school anymore,” he said. “It’s turning into a zoo, basically. They say they’re acting according to policy. Well, maybe policy needs to change.

“We need true educators and true administrators,” he added. “Regardless if you’re the principal or the superintendent, you all became teachers first. You need to go back to your ground rules and worry about education and not about politics. You need to do the hard decisions that are appropriate for the school district, and not to save your own rear.”

The Canales children returned to Memorial four days after the incident. As for Davis, she’s still trying to find another place for her nephew to learn. She said he wants to return to Dallas, where he lived before moving to Port Arthur with his aunt about seven years ago.

“He does not want to go to school here,” she said. “And I don’t trust it (Memorial). I don’t want my baby here.”


Twitter: @ErinnPA