This time last year, Nasir Andrews was beginning third grade at Ardmore Elementary, a school where she would face a year of bullying, her parents say.
But this year, fourth-grader Nasir has turned the very issue that caused her great pain — bullying — into a cause for awareness, advocacy and a platform for success with the creation of Backdown Bully.
“Our goal is to make this a community for everybody and make sure those who feel they’re being harassed, intimidated or bullied, have a place that is in the district to go and communicate those issues and they’re dealt with in a comprehensive and fair way to make sure both bullies and those who are being bullied have the opportunity to have their voice heard and receive the services they need,” Travis Andrews, Nasir’s father said.
Backdown Bully is currently leading a gofundme.com fundraising campaign to raise money for emPower Packs that will include a journal, pencil, T-shirt, bully reporting templates, books and other resources.
“Because she was keeping a journal of things she was experiencing, she was saying if we could put together these emPower Packs, kids can have books and journals to write down and record what they’re experiencing and be able to have those tools and resources … for parents to know what to include when they report it,” Chantey Andrews, Nasir’s mother said.
This year, she’s enrolled in a new school and is excited to have a fresh start with making new friends. It’s a stark difference from last year.
Nasir said students at her previous school stole snacks from her. She’s been forced to do other children’s school work and has been physically hurt. It escalated to racism after she was called “Nutella” and “servant” throughout the 2016-17 school year. Although it wasn’t until two months ago that the world took notice.
On June 15, Chantey Andrews posted a public Facebook video of her daughter holding up signs, slowly dropping them to reveal all of the horrible ways she was bullied. The video would go on to garner more than 1 million views, 26,000 shares and catch the attention of national media, including CNN, US Magazine, CBS and the New York Daily News, among others.
“It started the first day of school last year when Nasir first came home and we were excitedly asking her, ‘How as your first day of school’, ” Chantey Andrews said in an interview on when the bullying began. “And, unfortunately, she reported back it wasn’t that great. Kids were running away from her on the playground and she just didn’t have a good first day experience.”
The Andrews chalked it up to Nasir being the new kid since the family had just moved to Bellevue from Georgia.
The then-9-year-old continued to struggle with making friends. Her teacher would take note of it in an email to the Andrews. Later, during Christmas break, the couple noticed a change in their normally-outgoing daughter’s personality when it was time to return to school.
“I noticed a shift in her presence, in her energy and in her character,” Travis Andrews said. “Just really looking depressed and not looking to do anything, which is not her normal personality.”
By that time, her family understood she was being bullied, specifically when it came to snack and lunch time. Her mother noticed Nasir constantly asked for packed lunches.
“She revealed to us that the students would determine whether or not they would sit with her at lunch whether or not she had packed a lunch,” Chantey Andrews said. “They called her poor and homeless because she was participating in the free and reduced price lunch program.”
As one of about 30 African-American students at Ardmore, Nasir said she never felt included or respected. According to Travis Andrews, the bullying escalated to racism after Nasir was called “Nutella” because “that’s why she’s black.”
Nasir would later find a hand-drawn picture from a student with what she thought were black guns with the words, “die, die, die” at the top of the picture. The student who drew it said the picture was of dinosaurs.
The Andrews repeatedly reached out to Nasir’s teacher, the vice principal and principal of Ardmore Elementary. They had meetings with administration — with Nasir in attendance — to get to the bottom of the many issues.
After learning the incidents throughout the school year hadn’t been documented, the family filed a harassment, intimidation and bullying complaint. In it, were details of six incidents despite many others they knew their daughter had endured.
However, throughout the investigation process, and later when the Bellevue School District delivered its findings, the Andrews felt the Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying guiding policy was flawed.
Of the six cases of bullying the family presented, two “rose to the level” of harassment, intimidation or bullying but the other four did not.
“There’s no metrics to measure ‘rising to the level,’” Travis Andrews said.
The family claims they were told it would be easier and less work if they didn’t file official harassment, intimidation and bullying complaints. There was also confusion as to who would be doing the investigation.
Those issues with the harassment, intimidation and bullying process is what led the Andrews to file a tort claim, or request for mediation, in mid-July with the district. Travis Andrews said he and his family wants to work with the district to provide some systemic change. With Backdown Bully in partnership with a number of civil rights and public interest organizations, the Andrews believe they can build a comprehensive policy that will seek to educate students throughout the entire school year.
Shomari Jones, the school district’s director of equity and graduation success, said there are “without a doubt” areas within the Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying policy that the school district could improve.
“A lot of the language in the HIB is given to us by OSPI, the state,” he said. “So there are some things that cannot be changed but we also feel there are things that can be addressed.”
Jones said the Andrews family presented a number of opportunities for growth and the school board is expected to look at making some changes.
“I have heard, as a consistent complaint, the lack of clarity, especially as it pertains to social media and the use of it, and especially as it pertains to acts of intentional racism or racial epithet,” he said. “And so we really want to look at how we address that in our HIB policy and I don’t know what that will look like.”
Jones said he thinks every school district suffers from systemic racism but, with the work the district has done around equity, he believes the racial equity department and the district are doing progressive work. The district has implemented equity training for teachers and staff and has a racial equity team in place at each of its 29 schools.
Although it’s a “really slow process,” Jones has seen substantial transitions in the two years he’s been the equity director.