Editor's note: To protect the anonymity of the family, the names and specific details of the bullying incident have been withheld.
While many children dread the loss of summer fun and freedom to sleep late in the morning, Johnathon, a quiet young man who likes skateboarding and music is not looking forward to the start of school for much different reasons.
"I don't want to go back," he answers quickly when asked about returning to a classroom. Johnathon fears the predators at school who have tormented him for two years. "I worry I'll have to be pulled out again, or they will push me to my breaking point."
Bullying, whether through participation or avoidance, is a sad but true fact of childhood and a major cause of stress for children afraid of being ridiculed, threatened or dealing with acts of physical aggression from a classmate.
Feeling unsafe for a child affects everything that goes on in their life.
"He just shut down. Johnathon went from being a good student two years ago to possibly failing when we had to pull him out last year for home schooling because the bullying was out of control," his mother, Beatrice said.
Records provided to The Brazil Times by the family show that the bullying had progressed from verbal taunts into physical attacks, some requiring medical attention.
"I don't even know who some of them were," Johnathon said of the attackers. "They were probably bullied by someone else, and being depressed and angry about it, they were going to take it out on somebody sooner or later. That somebody, it turns out, is me."
Although school officials were aware of the bullying, many of the attacks went unreported. Student witnesses are reluctant to report incidents or assist victims for fear of becoming a target themselves and busy teachers not seeing anything take place only increased Johnathon's fear, leading to his silence and isolation.
"You really begin to feel like everyone at school, including the teachers, were on the side of the bullies," Johnathon said. "You feel so alone."
Only after going home to be questioned by his parents about his injuries, then again by medical personnel, did Johnathon begin to feel safe enough to start telling his story.
"A parent just shouldn't have to send their child to school in an unsafe environment," Beatrice said.
Feeling that the changes in the school corporation's policy regarding bullying is encouraging, Beatrice is not as hopeful as her husband, John, who thinks Johnathon should return to school this year.
"I'm just not sure its enough change to do any good," Beatrice said. The family feels that extensive training about the new changes in the anti-bullying policy and a firm commitment by each teacher to establish a safe place is needed. "Nothing was done about what was happening to my son until he retaliated, and then the bullies only found new ways to torment him afterwards."
Johnathon's father believes that the punishment for acts of bullying should be tougher than any other policy because of the lifelong emotional and physical effects victims suffer.
"Respect is the key," John said. After what his son has had to endure, he wonders if the strict policies at military schools or an in-school security force shouldn't be implemented to ensure security for other victims. "Bullies don't like themselves, or anyone else, so they don't show respect to others."
Both Beatrice and John remember a time when school-yard bullies were dealt with one-on-one, and when the dust settled the two parties shook hands and it was over. But today's bullies often
run in packs, developing gang-like alliances, making defense or escape seem impossible for the victim.
"It's a shame that a person would even have to consider a military-style format, or security officers patrolling the hallways of our schools, especially in the little town of Brazil," John said. "The problem is serious and we have to do something just as serious to stop it."
Due to his concern about other students' safety, John, who was Johnathon's teacher during home school, is willing to teach other students removed from school because of bullying issues.
"My wife and I will not raise a disrespectful or abusive child, but many of these kids that are the bullies come from homes that just don't reinforce these ideas," John said, agreeing with some psychologists assessment that bullying is a learned behavior passed down through generations. "The bullies will laugh at education efforts, but educating the teachers, students and their parents will help the victims."
The discussion about returning their son to a classroom continues for Beatrice and John, but for Johnathon, who still lives in fear, there is no room for discussion.
"I don't have any friends at school anymore," said Johnathon, who's struggling with self-worth issues. "I just don't want to go back."
This series will continue next month with stories updating the implementations of the new bullying policies.