It takes a lot to unnerve Mammoth Lakes Police and School Resource Officer Andy Lehr, but a brutal attack on a 6-year-old girl by a small group of elementary school-aged children last week in Mammoth did.
The little girl, who suffered a mild concussion after being knocked down and kicked in the head by three children ranging in age from six to seven years old, is recovering, but the veteran school resource officer said the episode disturbed him.
“I’ve never seen anything like that, where the kids conspired together to knock someone to the ground,” he said.
“Kids get into fights, but this was different. They attacked her and kicked her in the head. It only stopped when a parent drove by and the kids scattered.”
“The parent recognized one of the attackers and that lead us to the rest of them.”
The attack, which involved two first graders, a boy and a girl, and the 7-year-old second grader, occurred on Tuesday, Jan. 21, at about 1:45 p.m. on Old Mammoth Road near Snow Creek Athletic Club, Lehr said.
The investigation into the attack, which included talking to the childrens’ parents, the children, school officials and more, revealed that the second grade boy conspired with the first grade boy and girl while on the school bus to attack the kindergartner once the school bus stopped.
The three children then pushed the kindergartner to the ground and began hitting her, with the second grader kicking the girl in the head, he said.
“They said she was throwing snowballs at them,” Lehr said. “But there wasn’t any snow around.”
The girl’s mother, who said her daughter is now seeing a counselor said when her daughter came home, she at first did not realize what had happened.
“She didn’t want to talk about it and I thought they had maybe just pushed her,” she said.
“The next day, Rosanne (Lampariello, Mammoth Elementary School principal) called me and told me that one of the kids admitted to hitting her and kicking her in the head. When I heard that, I immediately took her to the hospital and that’s when they said she had a mild concussion.”
“There is a lot of concern in the community,” he said. “That’s why the case was sent to the (Mono County) District Attorney’s office.”
Lampariello said the school is responding with every resource it has.
“What we can’t do is tell you the precise circumstances of what happened to each child, but what we can do is tell you that in situations like this, we can reach out to the DA’s office, Child Protective Services, Wild Iris, every resource there is,” she said.
“We are not trying to hide anything, but it is our responsibility not only to hold children accountable for their actions, but also to teach and develop good citizenship in children. We are the educational system, not the penal system, and these are all very, very young children.”
Lois Klein, the superintendent for Mammoth Unified School District, said consequences for bad behavior for young children range from missing lunch recess suspension to expulsion for very serious issues, although expulsion is “typically used only after multiple incidents and usually with older students,” she said.
The issue also is being handled under an anti-bully program that has been in place for about one and a half years, Klein said.
Called the Positive Behavior Support and Intervention (PBIS), the program is district-wide (K-12) and focuses on “creating a global culture” of respect for every student, she said.
The program gives a framework where each school defines which incidents are “severe,” which are in the middle and which are minor, and how to quickly respond to those situations that need a response. That streamlines the response, once an incident occurs, Klein said.
“Every morning, I get on the intercom and talk to my students, and I ask them to pause, to practice respect,” said Lampariello. “We have been working with this program for a while now, and it has demonstrated success.”
In fact, she said, she, the district’s other principals are headed into a two-day PBIS training beginning Thursday, Jan. 30, for an already-scheduled training on responding to bullying issues.
In the meantime, the kindergartner’s mother said her daughter is recovering, but is still reluctant to talk about the issue.
The mother said she went public in order to let the community know that such things can happen and that bullying can be a very serious thing.
“After she got up, my daughter said she told them, ‘This is not alright, you can’t hit anyone.’
“That’s what I am trying to communicate.”