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Bullying results in teenager’s hair set on fire

TatyanButler 14 Park City talks about how group girls started her hair fire using lighter JeffersMiddle School Waukegan. | Thomas

Tatyana Butler, 14, of Park City talks about how a group of girls started her hair on fire using a lighter at Jefferson Middle School in Waukegan. | Thomas Delany Jr.~Sun-Times Media

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School district statement

Waukegan Public Schools take any accusations of bullying of our students very seriously. Our staff members are trained to identify signs of bullying and to assist students who may be victims of any forms of harassment or hazing by their peers. The safety and security of our students remain a top priority for our District, and we have, and will continue to take any action necessary to assure that our schools are safe and comfortable learning environments for our nearly 17,000 students.

Each May, students in the 4th-12th grades complete a bullying survey on the prevalence of bullying in the schools. All students receive training on bullying either through the classroom or PE teacher each month. Students that are either bullied or are bullying receive an individual or small group intervention from either the school counselor, psychologist, or social worker.

This past fall there was a District-wide anti-bullying campaign in conjunction with Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office titled “Rise Above.” The event included anti-bullying lessons at each elementary, middle and high school. The aim of the Rise Above bullying event was to engage nearly 17,000 students in all 25 District schools to stand up against bullies and bullying behavior.

“That event is now being replicated by other school districts in the area,” said school spokesman Nick Alajakis.

He added that earlier this year the district unveiled “School Tipline,” a new anti-bullying tool that allows students and parents to anonymously and quickly communicate school concerns or threats to administration through the Internet or text messaging.

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Updated: May 13, 2013 7:48AM

The seventh-grade student knew her friends weren’t joking about her hair being on fire when they slapped her on the head as she began to smell smoke, said Park City 14-year-old Tatyana Butler.

Waukegan police are investigating the incident at Thomas Jefferson Middle School. Police Cmdr. Gabe Guzman said the incident occurred Tuesday and the two offenders, a 13-year-old and 14-year-old, were disciplined by the school.

Butler recalls walking down the hallway Tuesday afternoon with three friends when two eighth-grade girls that had been bothering her all year started to call her names as she passed them.

“I saw them with the lighter. Then they came behind me and they were flicking the lighter,” she said. “So they go past me and start talking stuff.”

But her mother, Neysha O’Conner, 32, of Park City, had always counseled her to walk away, and she did. That’s when her friends noticed her hair.

“My friends was like, ‘Tatyana, your hair’s on fire! Your hair’s on fire! and I was like, ‘Are you for real?’ and they just started hitting it out,” she said.

When she confronted the girl with the lighter, the girl punched her in the forehead, leaving a small bump.

“My daughter was crying and upset and she wanted to go home. They said she had to write the paper (incident report) first,” said O’Conner, who wasn’t notified for over two hours.

“That’s why I was upset,” she said.

O’Conner also took issue with the principal, who she says tried to play down the incident, saying “things happen.”

“This is a serious matter, I was really upset,” O’Conner said, “That’s like taking a knife to school.”

O’Conner says she called the principal on Wednesday to say she was going to get a lawyer and go to the school board. School officials, O’Conner said, told her they would call police to make an incident report. But, O’Conner said a report was not made to police until 3 p.m. on Wednesday.

“I can’t forget this. I don’t want it to happen to anyone else. If it can happen to her, it can happen to anyone,” she said.

Butler transferred from North Chicago this year and has always been on the honor roll. O’Conner said she signed papers so she can skip a grade next year, but it will put her in the same class as the other two girls.

O’Conner and Butler were told both girls received three-day suspensions, but they doesn’t believe that was enough.

“I think 10 days they might think about it,” O’Conner said. “Two days off, your not really thinking about it. At any other school they would expel you.”

Butler noted that she had previously reported bullying to a counselor and school officials talked to them, “But sometimes that makes it worse,” said Butler.

Her mother said the school officials told her they couldn’t do anything if it was just words.

O’Conner said her daughter is really shy and has been too scared to go to school because of teasing. But she plans on taking her daughter on Monday and stay with her the whole day if she has to do that.

She is still hiring an attorney.

“How safe are they in that school?” asked O’Conner.

Guzman said police are moving forward with an investigation despite the principal just calling for a report of the incident.

Guzman said an investigator has been assigned to the case and was interviewing one of the offenders on Friday.

“We categorize that as an aggravated battery if it was an adult. It’s a felony,” he said.

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