Coffee County parents hoping to have an open discussion with school officials about bullying were essentially shut out of a school board meeting Monday afternoon.
The Coffee County Board of Education met at 4 p.m. in Manchester. A few dozen parents and students filled the small meeting space, some wearing purple shirts, others carrying signs, both with messages of anti-bullying.
As Chairperson Esther Sims drew the meeting to a close with a bang of a gavel, parents spoke up.
“We have something to say about bullying in schools. We would like the school board to address that,” said an unidentified parent in the crowd.
But they were told the topic could not be discussed because proper procedure to be part of the agenda was not followed.
Parents were asked to submit proper notice to be part of the regularly scheduled meeting in June.
The gathering was then adjourned without further discussion.
Parents exiting the meeting room were disappointed.
“I got a little bit emotional today,” admitted Kelly Foote. “It's just that you don't want to see a child put through this, especially what happened in Coffee County just this last week, the last couple weeks.”
Foote told Nashville's News 2 her daughter has been bullied for years at Westwood Middle School in the Manchester City Schools District. However, her daughter will go to a county high school next year.
“Something needs to be done and it needs to be done now,” she said.
Parents like Foote are part of a grassroots, social media movement to evoke change in the school system.
The online group Coffee County TN Parents Against Bullying was set up by parents to rally support following the death of 13-year-old Tiffany Davis.
Family and friends of the Coffee County Middle School student believe she killed herself after being repeatedly bullied.
“At least we can start doing something, because we don't want another Tiffany,” said Deborah Bell, a grandmother who said her granddaughter has been bullied.
Since the group joined Facebook, countless parents and students have shared their stories of mistreatment, but the bullying seems to continue.
Last week, Beronica Dinovo was attacked in the hallway of Coffee County Central High School. The incident was caught on tape.
“I was walking to 2nd period, having a conversation with my friend, when I felt someone pulling my hair and started punching me,” Dinovo recalled.
The cell phone video shows Dinovo being attacked from behind, pulled to the ground, and then punched multiple times.
Dinovo claimed the same girl has bullied her since seventh grade, and previous reports to school administrators were ignored.
“It goes on a lot,” she said. “Nobody really does anything. Nobody stops it. It's just going to keep going.”
The alleged attacker, unidentified because she is a juvenile, was reportedly suspended for three days following the fight. Criminal charges have also been filed against her.
Dinovo's mother, like so many others, was outraged.
“Something needs to be done,” Tina Baltimore said, “and if all the parents would come together and do it, it would stop. It's ridiculous.”
Coffee County School Board members told Nashville's News 2 off-camera that they are committed to issues that concern students.
The county has also funded Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, a nationally-recognized anti-bullying program, to be implemented next year.
Following Monday's school board meeting, parents and students marched from the administrative offices to Coffee County Middle School.
The march was an effort to call attention to bullying. It ended with a candlelight vigil in honor of Davis. Those in attendance vowed to “make a change.”