NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) – Parents and students packed a school board meeting on Tuesday night, urging administrators to help combat bullying.
Leading the efforts were the loved ones of 14-year-old Dejah Jones, who was a freshman at Woodside High School. Dejah took her own life last month, and family members believe bullying played a role.
“Why is there such a history of bullying, and nothing being done about it?” asked Japharii Jones, Dejah’s cousin. Japharii believes administrators have not appropriately responded to the suicide.
He and several others voiced their concerns during the meeting’s public comment period.
“This is on the level of an epidemic,” said Dejah’s great aunt, Valerie Jones.
Several community members proposed solutions, from adding security guards to schools and buses, to implementing mentoring programs.
Elysia Potter, a 7th grade student at Crittenden Middle School, said she wants to bring the “Champions Against Bullying” initiative to her school. Currently, she serves as an ambassador.
“I have been bullied more times than I can count,” she told the board.
Board Chairman Jeff Stodghill responded to the comments.
“This message tonight that you’ve brought us speaks directly to our hearts,” he said before the crowded room.
Stodghill told 10 On Your Side that he is open to suggestions on ways to improve the division’s anti-bullying efforts.
“We review our policies on a regular basis and after hearing from the community tonight we will certainly go back and listen to all the suggestions.”
He said the division has several safety programs currently in-place.
“When something happens like Dejah Jones’ passing, and the light is turned on to what brought that about, we have to ask ourselves ‘are we doing everything we can’ and that’s what needs to happen.” he said. “I think that’s what each school board member has been wrestling with in the last 6 weeks.”
Dejah’s family members are determined to see change happen. They intend on attending future school board meetings to continue the fight.
“My granddaughter’s death will not be in vain,” said Brenda Talton, Dejah’s grandmother.