By Kristine Sorensen

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Austin Bell was so excited to start kindergarten this year, but his mom, Brittney Smith, said it quickly took a turn when he began complaining of stomach aches the second week of school.

Smith eventually figured out her son was being bullied.

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“My son’s being pushed in the mud where he’s cried,” Smith said. “He’s being pushed. He’s being pinched in the bathroom. His seat has been taken from underneath him in the classroom. He’s being taunted.”

Smith said it took weeks for the school to take it seriously and create an official “bully report.”

“I’m dropping my baby off at his kindergarten, taking pictures on his first day of school. (He’s) happy, not upset. I didn’t know that was a trap because I would not have sent my baby in there. You don’t understand how angry I am about this.” Smith told KDKA’s Kristine Sorensen. “If I didn’t ask my son the right questions, he would have been suffering in silence for that semester or now.”

Smith was persistent, and just recently, she and the school created a “safety plan” that includes switching Bell’s teacher and having Smith on speakerphone any time her son goes to the nurse or a teacher to report bullying.

(Photo Credit: KDKA)

It also includes no contact with the specific bullies, something often called a no-contact agreement, signed by both the victim’s and bully’s parents.

Attorney and former school expulsion hearing officer Phil DiLucente explains that can also include friends and family of the bully.

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“How do you manage that alleged third party contact on whether it did or did not take place, particularly in the social media environment these children are in today?” DiLucente said. “It’s very, very difficult, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.”

For Bell, the no-contact agreement means having an extra monitor on the playground, no contact in the classroom and going to the bathroom only with a trusted friend.

DiLucente said documentation is key. Throughout the process, Smith learned to send emails to the superintendent, principal, and teacher and to save them.

“Have a paper trail so that there is proof that this is actually giving the school notice, as well as that it’s going to be addressed,” DiLucente said.

Smith wants other parents to learn what took her weeks to figure out so their kids don’t face the repercussions of bullying and can get help much more quickly.

“My son has anxiety,” Brittney said. “And I’ve seen bullying on the news, right? I sympathize with the parents. I’ve cried, you understand me? But I lacked the knowledge, and I had to do my research and reach out to people to understand.”

DiLucente said he’s seen more bullying on social media among kids recently. He said this could be related to the negative and extreme commentary on social media by many adults.

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Meanwhile, Bell is getting therapy to help overcome the effects of the bullying, and his mom hopes everyone can learn from what they’ve been through.

Kristine Sorensen