'We want change': Group holds anti-bullying protest after reports of attack at Des Plaines school

  • Amber Johnson raises her arms during a protest Tuesday in front of Forest Elementary School in Des Plaines. Johnson said her son was injured by bullies at the school last week. Officials are investigating.

      Amber Johnson raises her arms during a protest Tuesday in front of Forest Elementary School in Des Plaines. Johnson said her son was injured by bullies at the school last week. Officials are investigating. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • About 30 parents and students took part in a demonstration against bullying at Forest Elementary School in Des Plaines on Tuesday. The protest was organized by a mother who said her 9-year-old son was injured by bullies at the school last week.

      About 30 parents and students took part in a demonstration against bullying at Forest Elementary School in Des Plaines on Tuesday. The protest was organized by a mother who said her 9-year-old son was injured by bullies at the school last week. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Eric and Amber Johnson were among the anti-bullying protesters outside Forest Elementary School in Des Plaines on Tuesday morning. Amber Johnson organized the demonstration after she said her son was injured by bullies at the school last week.

      Eric and Amber Johnson were among the anti-bullying protesters outside Forest Elementary School in Des Plaines on Tuesday morning. Amber Johnson organized the demonstration after she said her son was injured by bullies at the school last week. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 3/17/2021 11:23 AM

Days after her 9-year-old son was injured by classmates at Forest Elementary School in Des Plaines, a local woman led an anti-bullying protest at the campus Tuesday morning.

Amber Johnson said bullying is an ongoing problem at the school. The violence that left her son injured during recess Friday is just the latest example, she said.

 

"I'm absolutely furious," Johnson said. "We want change."

About 30 parents and students participated in Tuesday's demonstration on a corner at Forest and Fifth avenues. Wearing masks because of the COVID-19 pandemic, they chanted and waved signs with messages including "Don't be a bully!" and "Honk against bullying."

The protest occurred a day after Des Plaines School District 62 officials confirmed they are investigating the attack on Johnson's son, a fourth-grader. A Des Plaines police school resource officer is assisting, but the department considers it a school matter, Cmdr. Matt Bowler said.

Johnson said her son was dragged to a secluded area, punched, kicked and jumped on.

"They took his shoes and socks off in the cold while my son was shivering and shaking," she said. "My son was in tears."

The attack eventually was stopped by a teacher, Johnson said.

Johnson said her son had been injured by peers previously, too.

In an initial email to parents, Superintendent Paul Hertel described the incident as a "game of tag" that escalated and led to a student being injured.

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Johnson bristled at that description.

"This was not a game of tag," she said. "This was an assault on my son."

Hertel used stronger language in a statement he and school board President Ronald Burton read during Monday's board meeting.

"District 62 does not tolerate bullying," Hertel said in the statement, which was shared with the media. "We support our parents in bringing attention and awareness of this important topic."

Both Hertel and Burton watched Tuesday's protest from a distance.

Burton said staffers have spoken to students about the incident and a few of the students have admitted taking part. Disciplinary action will be decided after all the parties -- including Johnson's son -- are interviewed, he said.

Johnson said she and allies "don't want another kid to have to go through this and suffer."

• Daily Herald staff writer Mark Welsh contributed to this report.

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