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LEHI— On Monday, Sept. 26, Amy and Jacob Simpson's 9-year-old son came home from school in tears. He told his parents that another student had been bullying him for weeks, and that on that particular day, the student threatened to kill him.
Amy and Jacob Simpson asked their son more about the bullying he had been experiencing. He told them that when he was playing at recess, another student approached him and told him he would be hung by his neck and killed if he didn’t stop playing with another student. The bully then loudly told the boy's friend that they would murder the Simpson boy if he continued to play with him at recess.
The death threats were only the most recent offense that the 9-year-old experienced. Amy Simpson said that this bully has hit her son in the stomach at least 25 times this school year.
The Simpsons' son suffers from chronic intestinal pseudo-obstruction, which is a rare disorder that causes nutritional requirements to not be met and affects the stomach and intestines, according to Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Amy Simpson said that since her son is always at risk for a bowel rupture, a strong hit to the stomach could kill him.
“He was genuinely afraid that the bully was serious and that it could happen,” she said. “So, we called the school and let them know.”
The concerned mother said she contacted the vice principal of Fox Hollow Elementary and also made a formal report with the Lehi Police Department of the physical assault and death threats. She said she was told that because the children are minors, there have to be three separate felony offenses and they all have to be different types of crimes in order to press charges.
The physical assault and the death threats were two different felonies, but Amy Simpson said the officer told her they were missing one felony that would allow them to press charges.
Sgt. Chad Ray of the Lehi Police Department has been handling the Simpsons’ case since Amy Simpson filed a report. Ray said the three-felony rule does not necessarily come from police, but from the juvenile detention center the police department works with, Slate Canyon Youth Center, which has regulations for custody.
“I really assumed that because there was a death threat, that it would be taken seriously.” — Amy Simpson, mother
“Kids this age — we’re talking about 9-year-old kids — typically are not booked into detention for any reason unless it’s some kind of serious felony crime,” Ray said. “Bullying doesn’t come near to that.”
He said that typically, school administration and school districts are responsible for handling bullying cases involving young children and that once the district gets involved, the situation is usually resolved quickly.
“When it comes to bullying cases, especially with kids this young, the school district are generally the people who handle it, because they deal with it every day," Ray said. "Because of the ages of kids, there’s nothing criminal that we can pursue, so we work hand-in-hand with the school district,” Ray said.
After speaking with police, Amy Simpson decided to rely on the school district. She said the vice principal spoke with the bully, who denied all accusations at first, but when met with a second time, admitted to hitting the 9-year-old in the abdomen “five or six times” and also admitted to the death threats.
Although the bully admitted to the physical assaults and the death threats, she said the school was still limited with what they could do.
“Because the bully had no prior record of bullying, and even though there were so many different days and incidents of physical assault, it was treated as a one-time offense, and for a one-time offense you just get a short talk and a call home,” she said.
The Simpsons' son's friend, another student who has witnessed the bullying, was called into the vice principal’s office and confirmed that the bullying, including the death threats, had occurred.
“They had confirmation from all three of them that the death threats were real, but they still weren’t allowed to do anything besides that talk,” Amy Simpson said.
“We look at every situation on a case-by-case basis.” — David Stephenson, Alpine School District
She said that the vice principal told her that there need to be multiple offenses before suspension or expulsion could happen, but that he did everything in his power to keep her son safe.
“I really assumed that because there was a death threat, that it would be taken seriously,” she said.
Amy Simpson said the bully's parents were contacted after multiple attempts, but that the mother refused to give law enforcement her home address for a home visit. Simpson said the bully's mother told police that the school handled the situation, with which Simpson disagreed.
Alpine School District representative David Stephenson said that with the district’s safe school policy, administration relies on school leadership to work with parents, if needed, and that there is no one-size-fits-all rule for handling bullying, but that it is handled on a case-by-case basis.
Stephenson said he spoke with Darrin Johnson, principal of Fox Hollow Elementary, about this particular case, and that they are on the same page regarding how it has been handled.
Stephenson said appropriate action has been taken by the principal. Johnson was not available for comment.
Amy Simpson said that the vice principal tried to resolve the conflict and also tried to encourage all three children to play together at recess; however, her son still did not feel safe at school.
“I was scared,” his mother said. “I just felt like we were waiting for the next bad thing to happen before anything could be done about it.”
Amy Simpson then decided to ask the principal if more duty guards could be placed on the playground during recess to supervise. However, the school could not oblige, as they already had the maximum number of three duty guards on the playground.
“I felt like it wasn’t taken care of and it didn’t feel any safer to me and it didn’t feel any safer to (my son),” she said.
She said she called and left voicemails for two people at Alpine School District, but never heard back from either of them. She said she is hopeful the school will work with her to help her son, but will do what it takes to keep him safe, even if that means pulling him out of school.
“I really hope the laws for bullying in Utah and the school district can be changed to help not only my son be safe, but other kids to be safe too when serious things happen,” she said.