It has been 25 days since we first told you about a number of serious bullying accusations against Caldwell Middle School -- including its Principal, Gary Stout. Even after contacting the district for over a month before the story originally aired on February third -- we had yet to formally hear from administrators --that is until we brought our cameras inside Monday night's public school board meeting.
After leaving the big city of Houston last October for small town Caldwell -- the Arnold family says they never looked back.
"We didn't like the big city, we wanted to get back to the small town values and the whole atmosphere that a little town has to offer," said Conroe native, April Arnold.
Naturally, as soon as they arrived, April and Nick Arnold enrolled their six kids at Caldwell Independent School District
"Our two youngest are at the elementary school and they absolutely love it; the principal, Mrs. McManus, and the assistant principal, Mr. Goodlett are wonderful with the kids," said April Arnold. "Mrs. McManus, I believe used to be the principal at the Middle School, but she's at the elementary school now."
But not even six months later, April and Nick say things dramatically changed.
"My son broke his arm and he was wearing a sling and a kid came up to him and said, 'You're arm isn't broken!' and he hit him in his arm that was legitimately broken," said Nick Arnold. "Later on that same day, a group of boys approached him and started physically bullying him, one kid slapped him in the face."
"The bullying issues have got to stop -- I've had numerous and I can't even count how many parents, former employees, other people who have sought us out to tell us their stories about what has happened to them, and that Mr. Stout has done similar things to them and I think the children are learning the bullying from him," explained Arnold during Monday night's school board meeting.
Inside a packed room before the entire Caldwell ISD School board, Arnold voiced her concerns of chronic bullying. The man who is also at the forefront of these allegations: Caldwell Middle School Principal Gary Stout; he sat in the second row and listened.
"When they're seeing these administrators that they are supposed to trust and who are supposed to be there to protect them and they are bullying their parents, it's teaching them to bully too," added Arnold.
After Monday night's school board meeting adjourned just after 8:30, we approached Dr. Janet Cummings regarding the questions and concerns we've been asking for the past 30 days; at first she declined for an on-camera interview, but after a 30 minute discussion behind closed doors -- she obliged.
"Bullying is a problem in every public school," said Caldwell ISD Superintendent Janet Cummings. " But the degree of what is being done as far as interventions, that is crucial. And we do take bullying very seriously. It is a subject that all of our teachers are very responsible about and following up and making sure students are treated fairly."
In early January, three parents from Caldwell contacted News 3 about bullying issues at this very school. All three had two things in common: They're children were being bullied; and, as concerned parents' trying to address the problem at school, they were being ignored by administrators.
For three weeks we contacted Dr. Cummings and Gary Stout; we left several messages and even stopped in for a visit at Dr. Cummings' office. Our phone calls and messages were never returned by Dr. Cummings. We asked her Monday night why our phone calls were never returned, especially regarding serious allegations against the middle school.
Nicole Morten: "Is there any reason why we are just now hearing from you, a month and a half later, after we contacted you several times about this problem?"
Dr. Cummings: "No. No particular reason."
Dr. Cummings said once a bully report is filled out it, it is then turned over to an administrator at the campus; they investigate it and then take appropriate action; a copy of the report is then put on file for the district.
"We are a public school and our interest is serving the kids each day and that is our focus so there may be a time when they [parents] would be asked to come back and make an appointment, but they can certainly do that and follow up with us as necessary," said Dr. Cummings.
"We've made appointments, parent-teacher conferences and the superintendent, at first, seemed genuinely concerned," said April Arnold. "Two weeks go by, I call and she still seems concerned and seems like she is making progress. Three weeks go by and I call back again and nothing is being done. We came to the conclusion that nothing was ever going to get done, so we just pulled the kids out of school. We're not out to get Mr. Stout. We pay taxes for public school and we're having to pull our kids out and home school and private school which is a huge expense on what we already have to pay," said April. "I think a lot of parents are fearful of retaliation, so they don't speak out at these meetings."
"When we were in Houston, my kids went to middle school and there was roughly 2000 kids in one middle school alone," said Nick Arnold. "Yea it had issues, just like every school has issues -- but it didn't go on and on and on -- it got dealt with and it got addressed. We've only been here since late October and why is this taking so long to fix? If the principal can't run a school with only 400 kids then we need to find a principal that can."
Leading by example -- at the end of the day, April and Nick hope their kids will learn the value of doing what they believe is the right thing to do.
"I think parents and members of our community need to be aware that there are always two sides to every story and that we have the interest of our students and the community at heart," said Dr. Cummings. "And we would be happy to discuss with them and if things are not to their liking then there is a process that they can follow to continue their quest."
Since the original story aired on February 2, 2012, News 3 has heard an overwhelming response of bullying issues from more than four of our surrounding counties. We are in contact with a handful of different families, including many more from Caldwell, who are willing to share their stories. We will continue following this story and keep you informed on the outcome of the bullying investigations at Caldwell as soon as the information becomes available.
Copy and paste the URL below to see the original story that aired on Feb. 3.
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