Your child is being bullied at school? There is Hope
By ROGER MOONEY
The bullying at school began when Jordyn Simmons-Outland was in the second grade. He was punched and tripped by classmates. He was teased for his weight. He once told his grandparents that he wished he were dead. He eventually saw a therapist.
His grandmother, Cathy Simmons, complained to Jordyn’s teachers and administrators at the neighborhood school, but the violence continued. The last straw for Cathy occurred in 2018 when Jordyn was slapped by a classmate at the start of his fifth-grade year.
What does a parent do when their child is not safe at school?
Where do they turn when their cries of, “Help! My child is being bullied!” go unanswered?
Parents and guardians talk of being frustrated by what they see as inaction by teachers and administrators at their neighborhood school.
The Hope Scholarship provides an escape for K through 12 students who reported being bullied or a victim of violence in a public school.
According to the Florida’s School Environmental Safety Incident Reporting System, more than 47,000 students in Florida reported being a victim of bullying during the 2015-16 school year. That’s a huge number, yet it’s only the number of schoolchildren who reported an incident. Many more suffered in silence.
In 2018, the Florida Legislature decided to address the staggering number of schoolchildren who are bullied each year by creating the Hope Scholarship.
“Hope is the best description. I keep thinking ‘There is hope. There is hope. There is hope,’” Cathy Simmons said.
The Hope Scholarship, which is not based on a family’s income, provides families with financial assistance to send a child who suffered from a qualifying incident to an eligible private school, or to transport him or her to a public school in another district. The scholarship value depends on the grade level and county the family lives in.
The transportation scholarship is worth up to $750 and can be used to attend any out-of-district public school with available space.
The scholarships are funded by consumers who choose to redirect up to $105 of their motor vehicle purchase taxes to the program.
Who is eligible?
Any public school student in Florida who was a victim of a qualifying incident at a K through 12 school, a school-related or school-sponsored program or activity or was riding in a school bus or waiting at a school bus stop.
What is a qualifying incident? They include battery, harassment, hazing, bullying, kidnapping, physical attack, robbery, sexual offenses (including harassment, assault or battery), threat or intimidation and fighting.
Cathy Simmons began looking for a private school for Jordyn after he was slapped by that classmate. She came across Lakeview Christian School in Lake Placid, Florida, which is not far from their home. That’s where she learned about the Hope Scholarship, then in its infancy.
They applied, and Jordyn became the first student in Florida to reap the benefits of the scholarship. Upon entering his new school for the first time, Jordyn said, “I new it was going to be good.”
That is the idea behind the Hope Scholarship. It provides an education choice to families so their children can benefit from safer, more inviting learning environments.
Jordyn made friends. He was one of six students picked to sing at the school’s Christmas concert. A teacher wrote on his first progress report that he was “a pleasure to have in class.”
Cathy couldn’t wait to tell others about the Hope Scholarship and how it changed her grandson’s life.
“Now there is peace,” she said.
Roger Mooney, marketing communications manager, can be reached at rmooney@StepUpForStudents.org.