San Diego Signal

From Personal Pain to Public Crusade: Kristie Bruce-Lane Leads Anti-Bullying Fight

“Our children deserve safe learning environments where they can thrive when they enter behind the gates of schools,” said Bruce-Lane.

When people think of bullying in the traditional sense, they imagine a schoolyard aggressor and their victim. But in actuality, there’s a whole web of people that the incident touches before and after the bullying occurs. There are the faculty members who are tasked with supervising and preventing inappropriate behavior; there are the families of bullied students who must deal with the fallout of their kids’ emotional trauma; and sometimes, as in the case of Poway Unified School District, there are officials and administrators who shield one another from public scrutiny, effectively fostering an environment where bullying thrives and is quickly swept under the rug.

Kristie Bruce-Lane, Republican candidate for San Diego’s 76th Assembly District, is on a mission to stamp out bullying—a mission that is deeply rooted in personal experience. Bullying has profoundly affected her son, Luke, who endured being hit, pushed, and called names by classmates during his time at San Diego French American School in La Jolla, according to public court documents.

The emotional distress, mental anguish, embarrassment, and anxiety resulting from these incidents led to financial burdens for the family, including counseling and therapy costs. According to Bruce-Lane’s initial complaint, the school failed to adequately investigate these reported incidents of bullying.

The school contends that it did its due diligence by forming a Behavioral Response Team (BRT) to investigate incidents of bullying. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the school’s self-administered investigation yielded nothing substantive, except for the false claim that none of the alleged incidents of bullying and harassment had been witnessed by teachers or supervisors. This is patently false based on the testimony of playground supervisor Claudia Escolano, who witnessed at least one incident on October 2, 2020 wherein Luke was pushed to the ground by a classmate and sent to the nurse’s office according to court documents.

For this reason, it seems apparent that the school had not conducted a thorough, serious investigation into itself and that it would be willing to expose any fault or wrongdoing by school faculty. One of the BRT’s members was Luke’s teacher, Mrs. Nielsen, who alleged that she had never seen any instance of bullying under her watch.

“Nielsen, in essence, interviewed herself and validated what she believed to be true or needed to be true and what the school needed to be true,” stated Bruce Levenberg, a declarant who provided testimony in the case. “If the BRT reversed their initial findings and ascertained that bullying occurred, it would then show their and/or their colleagues’ incompetence in supervision of the children, the failure of their RC program, and sully the reputation of this “elite” school. They were supervising the bully aggressor and bully victim supposedly and did not see any bullying or transgressions or, if they did, they did not report as required. All in all, these circumstances tainted the investigation.”

“Our children deserve safe learning environments where they can thrive when they enter behind the gates of schools,” said Bruce-Lane in an X post, formerly known as Twitter. “Californians have a right to express their views but that right ends when you carry out acts of violence, bullying, harassment, destruction of property, trample upon the rights of others, and the rights of fellow students to learn on all campuses.”

Hence, stopping bullying has thus become a cornerstone of Bruce-Lane’s campaign. She has accused her opponent, Democrat Darshana Patel—who sits on the Board of Directors at Poway Unified School District—of perpetuating a cycle of bullying and suffering for students by failing to hold school officials accountable as Board President.

Evidence suggests that school officials within the Poway Unified School District have a history of shielding their administrators from claims of abuse. One notable example is the case of Superintendent Marian Kim Phelps, who verbally abused a high school softball team, and was subsequently shielded by the PUSD Board Members for five months—despite parents providing evidence of the abuse. While Phelps was eventually fired, Bruce-Lane argues that this situation highlights how school officials often prioritize their own interests over students’ well-being, which leads to continued bullying and anguish.

For the record, Phelps is asking a judge to reinstate her and block any disclosure of why she was fired. It seems some bullies—be they students or administrators—don’t know when to go away.

“As a victims advocate and a voice for children, what is happening on school campuses across the nation is alarming,” said Bruce-Lane in response to recent news that ten-year-old Sammy Teusch took his own life after severe bullying. “In San Diego, CA, it is no different. At Poway Unified School District, [Patel] has been notified of multiple bullying complaints by numerous parents and because of inaction has created a hostile environment at school that interfered with or limited student’s ability to benefit from services, activities or opportunities offered by the school… No one will forget the hot microphone captured of [Patel] laughing about escaping accountability.”

Ultimately, Bruce-Lane was not alone in suing San Diego French American School– another family brought a suit forward after their son was subjected to antisemitic bullying without any disciplinary action taken by the school. 

Initially, the media dismissed these lawsuits as petty and retaliatory, possibly to undermine Bruce-Lane’s campaign in 2022. When asked, Bruce-Lane told the San Diego Signal “It was settled out of court, and it’s a matter of public record.”

Meanwhile, Teusch’s family is asking people to sign a petition urging Congress to take up legislation to curb bullying nationwide. “I want to talk,” Teusch says. “I think that part of the problem is that other parents that this has happened to in the past stopped talking about it. You go through this tragedy and then nobody ever talks about it again. … I think the only way the world is going to be fixed is if we fix it through the children.”

Bruce-Lane has seen firsthand the toll that bullying takes on a child’s mental health and the dire strain it can impose on a family. But it goes beyond her personal experience and legal battles; she views it as a broader societal issue that requires strong leadership and dedicated action. If elected to the California State Assembly, she must remember and be a champion for students like Sammy Teusch, standing up to bullying wherever it may appear—whatever form it may take—from the schoolyard playground to the school board dais.

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