The children of a Philadelphia mother who vowed to go to jail if her bullied children weren't transferred to a different school will be joining new classrooms today.
Cheryl Joseph's two daughters, 13-year-old Tiffany and 11-year-old Gabrielle, will be placed in new schools, Philadelphia Public School District Superindendent Arlene Ackerman announced, according the the Philadelphia Daily News.
Repeated calls to the school district by ABC News were not immediately returned, nor were those to Joseph, who told the Daily News that her children were so happy to escape the torment of the bullies at their old school that they were "hugging each other and giving each other high-fives."
The decision to move the two girls came after Joseph made a public plea to the school district, claiming she'd be willing serve time for her children's truancy rather than send them into the "hell hole" of bullying.
Joseph had been told by a truancy court in Philadelphia that if she didn't enroll Tiffany in a school by early next year, she could face at least five days in prison, a $500 fine and community service. Her children could also be removed from her care, she said.
She said she was willing to take the risk of jail time after seeing what her daughter endured in the past year at Pepper Middle School.
"I have resigned myself to going to jail for at least five days," Joseph said Thursday. "I'm going to go to jail rather than send my kids there.
"I feel like I'm feeding them to wolves when I send them. It's a hell hole," she said.
Her daughter has reportedly been beaten up and even had basketballs thrown at and "bounced off her" by bullies who "don't like the way she looks," Joseph said.
Bullies have called her daughter's cell phone and cursed at her, according to Joseph, and spread rumors that Tiffany was doing "inappropriate things with boys."
"My children are biracial," Joseph said. "They have olive complexions, and the root of the bullying is that other kids don't like the way Tiffany looks.
"When one child was asked why she didn't like Tiffany, she just responded that she, 'Didn't want to have to look at Tiffany's face,'" Joseph said.
Tiffany has purportedly suffered from low self-esteem since the bullying began, and her mother said she constantly refers to herself as "obese" and is "obsessed with dieting."
"She's constantly asking me how many calories is in this or in that or just not eating," Joseph said.
Joseph said she had unsuccessfully campaigned for the school to let Tiffany and her younger sister transfer to other schools.
No Written Evidence of Bullying
When the girls were finally enrolled in another district school -- after missing more than a month of classes -- they were told that they had to return to the school where the bullies had reportedly tormented them. But Joseph said she refused to expose her children to that kind of alleged bullying.
"I know what I'm facing if they don't go to school, but I can't see myself sending my kids to school like this," she said.
District officials have told her that they denied the transfer because the school had no "written evidence" of the incidents, she said.
But a Philadelphia Public School District official said Thursday that the district was doing everything it could to expedite the transfer.
In order to transfer schools, a student needs written documentation of extenuating circumstances.
"We have no problem with Tiffany and her sister going to another school," Gallard said. "Our policy is that if a child feels unsafe or a child feels like they can't learn in one of our schools, then we'll go ahead and move forward with the transfer."
Gallard added that the school district was informed two days ago of the girls' being sent back to the school where the alleged bullying occurred and was "investigating."
"The investigation will take us a few days," he said. "We're going to take a look at what happened."
Ackerman said she would investigate why Joseph was told her children could not switch schools, according to the Daily News.
"The mother can ask for a safety transfer and the principal does not have the right to say no to it," Ackerman said. "I don't even know why anybody would tell her that. It doesn't make sense."
Joseph had complained that the district wasn't moving fast enough.
"With all these kids who have killed themselves after being bullied," she said, "all I can say is that it won't be one of mine."