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Viral video adds to bullying debate; Fosston school officials look for solution to reported incidents on bus

Sarah Cymbaluk picks up two of her children, Ben, left, and Anna, Thursday at the Magelssen Elementary School in Fosston, Minn. Darren Gibbins, special to the Herald1 / 3
It is 8-year-old Anna Cymbaluk hope that something good can come out of the whole ordeal. She hope to start an "Orange you glad you aren't a bully" campaign on her birthday this year. Darren Gibbins, special to the Herald2 / 3
Sarah Cymbaluk3 / 3

FOSSTON, Minn. — Anna Cymbaluk was all smiles after school on Thursday, but that’s not always the case.

Anna’s mother, Sarah Cymbaluk, posted a video to her Facebook page Wednesday night showing 8-year-old Anna in tears with her 7-year-old brother Ben by her side as the two described incidents of traumatic bullying on the school bus they ride in Fosston, Minn.

In the video, Ben describes another child on the bus calling a high school girl a lesbian and telling her that she was going to kill herself, all while the bus driver sat idly by. When the bully turned his attention to Anna, the bus driver told her to “sit your (expletive) down.”

“I want to feel like I'm wanted in the school, like people like me,” Anna said in tears in the video.

After Anna told Principal Dan Boushee about the bullying at Magelssen Elementary School several times and the problems continued, her parents met with school administrators and a school board memberThursday to find a resolution. As a result, Superintendent Mark Nohner said he thinks they are very close to finding a solution.

But there are still kinks that need to be worked out.

“We take the things that are in the video very seriously, but there may be things on there that are not 100 percent correct,” Nohner said. “I'm not trying to come off like I'm covering anything up or trying to discredit the video, but there are a few statements on there that I believe are not 100 percent accurate.”

Ongoing problem

Anna and her mother said the bullying has happened as recently as Wednesday, when a boy on the bus scraped her on the palm with a sharpened pencil.

But Anna is resilient.

“I think they bully people because they hurt inside themselves,” Anna said.

Anna said the bullying is coming from two boys who are a couple of years older than her and Ben, and her parents also alleged that Anna has come home with various bruises and scrapes as a result of physical violence.

Her parents are also angry because they say the school hasn’t followed the Minnesota School Board bullying policy, which states a bully will be suspended upon the third reported incident. Nohner said there were fewer than three “reported” incidents but Anna and her family said they brought the issue up more than five times.

The majority of the abuse has happened on the school bus, which Anna and Ben ride with 45 other children for more than an hour every day, and Anna’s mother said she is very unhappy with the way the driver has been handling the situation and alleged he told other children on the bus to “watch out” because their yard was messy.

“One day she came home and was crying because he said, ‘You’re a third-grader, what do you need to cry for? You're too old to cry,’” Anna’s mother said.

Nohner declined to comment on whether any disciplinary action had been taken against the accused bullies or the bus driver, but said it is being investigated.

Making negative positive

Anna and her family are hoping to turn the whole ordeal into a positive experience. Anna hopes to start an “Orange you glad you aren’t a bully” campaign and celebrate a day of anti-bully awareness by wearing her favorite color, orange, on her birthday, May 13.

“A couple of kids saw the video and they said a couple of people were going to talk to me to make me feel better,” Anna said.

Nohner said he feels the issue is close to being resolved.

“The important point is Anna has struggled and it’s a heartbreaking video to watch,” he said. “We want to address that and we want Fosston schools to be a place where all kids can be happy.”

The Cymbaluk children will be dropped off by their dad at school, and the school is working on the possibility of having them bused home in a private van for the rest of the school year. The school will also consider holding the anti-bullying event on Anna’s birthday, but nothing has been set yet, and Anna’s mom said she’s not happy with the results of Thursday’s meeting.

She also said that during their meeting, school administrators even asked her to remove the video from Facebook, which had been shared more than 23,000 times as of Thursday evening.

Nohner said he did ask Anna’s parents to post on Facebook that “the school is dealing with the situation and we’re trying to make it a positive situation.”

Anna’s parents said the principal suggested having Anna meet with the school counselor to talk about how to deal with bullying, but her parents found that unacceptable because they didn’t feel their daughter had done anything wrong.

“We've read her all the books, we’ve done all the talks, you know, what any parent would do when your kid is getting bullied,” Anna’s mother said. “My kids are not the ones doing this, they should not be pulled out of class.”

Through all of it, Anna seemed more concerned about others than herself.

“I think it should be important because lots of people are bullied and I think they shouldn’t have to feel that way,” Anna said.

Anna Burleson

Anna Burleson is the higher education reporter for The Grand Forks Herald. She is a 2013 graduate of the University of South Dakota's Mass Communication program and is originally from Watertown, S.D. Contact her with story ideas or tips by phone, email or Twitter, all of which are listed below. Examples of her work can be accessed here.

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