Playing with toys, and with his brother Levi, is what five year old Asher Stormbreaker loves to do.
“He loves Legos and Hot Wheels cars,” said Jeremiah Stormbreaker, Asher’s dad.
Unfortunately, play time isn’t always what Asher is thinking about at home.
“He was totally preoccupied with this kid,” said Jeremiah.
Asher’s parents say he’s been the victim of bullying at school.
They said I could talk to him about it.
“He’s always being mean to me and never stops,” said Asher.
He says another student in his kindergarten class will push and hit him.
Obviously, that’s hard to hear as a parent.
“I can not adequately express to you the sense of powerlessness it gives me as a dad,” said Jeremiah.
Those feelings are all too common for families in our state.
A 2016 study by WalletHub found Louisiana leads the nation in bullying prevelance.
The Stormbreakers did what families in that situation are supposed to, file a complaint with their parish school system.
“She said oh we’ve investigated it and we can’t release the details of what we did but we took care of it,” said Jeremiah.
However, they say Asher is still returning to their Ruston home upset almost every day.
“He’s been getting bullied, all year long,” said Jeremiah. “And they refuse to do anything about it.”
Lincoln Parish Schools Superintendent Mike Milstead to talk about why that might be happening.
He couldn’t legally adress anything specifically about the Stormbreakers, but he did tell me about Louisiana’s state-wide process of investigating bullying claims, implemented in 2013 to fix this issue.
“When there are accusations of bullying…we follow that up with conversations with the appropriate people to make sure we’ve done all that we can in the investigation to protect the child involved,” said Milstead. “Once we’ve interviewed the people and completed the process, obviously we’re going to make a determination based on the information that we have determined by investigation is or is not bullying.”
He’s a firm beleiver that the investigation system protects our kids.
“I can’t think of any case that we’ve investigated at any time but what had turned out best for the kid,” said Milstead.
He’s also worked in education for more than 40 years, something he believes you wouldn’t do without a love and passion for helping children.
“It is a serious issue, no child at any given time should have to put up with that,” said Milstead. “No child should be the victim of bullying…we want no child to sit under the pressure of having been bullied by anybody else.”
Still, the Stormbreakers insist that’s exactly what Asher is dealing with.
So how could that happen?
Well, determining if bullying is truly taking place can still be complicated.
Flint Smith, who works in bullying prevention for Ouachita Parish Schools, says it all depends on if a school can prove that a child is targeted repetively.
“It continues to be a pattern,” said Smith. “That’s one of the things in the law, it’s a benchmark, the definition is a pattern of behavior. In a regular conflict sometimes both people are perpetrators and victims. With bullying you see more of a power imbalance.”
Smith admits figuring that out is difficult.
“That’s probably the hardest thing for an administrator,” said Smith. “Because I would say a majority of bullying doesn’t occur in front of adults.”
Parents of young children i spoke to agree it’d be a challenge.
“I think that probably would be hard but I guess the best thing would be the witnesses around the kids in school just to be able to talk about how they react on a routine basis,” said local mom Mallarie Toms. “It probably would be difficult though.”
“I would say it’d be difficult,” said local mom Kaitlin Montgomery. “Especially with younger kids to figure out you know, if it’s bullying.”
While it may be impossible to get rid of bullying entirely, Smith thinks with the investigations, Louisiana is on the right track.
“We’re continually training,” said Smith. “I’m not going to tell you that we’re perfect. But we’re much better than we used to be.”
Officials are focused on continued improvement when it comes to investigating bullying.
Because school leaders say in the end, kids like Asher shouldn’t be at home feeling like this..
“Sad,” said Asher. “Cause I hate being bullied.”
Instead, Asher’s parents hope he can worry about kids’ stuff.
Like what to make with his Legos, or how to land a jump with his Hot Wheels.