A Philadelphia mother has vowed to go to jail if it means keeping her daughter out of the school where bullies have allegedly tormented her about her weight, her hair and her race.
Cheryl Joseph said she has been told by a truancy court in Philadelphia that if she doesn't enroll Tiffany, 13, 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.
But Joseph said she has hit roadblock after roadblock trying to move her daughter and that the school district is no help.
She said she's willing to take the risk of jail time after seeing what her daughter has endured in the past year at Pepper Middle School.
"I have resigned myself to going to jail for at least five days," Joseph said. "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 added.
Her daughter has reportedly been beaten up and even had basketballs thrown at her 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 and her mother says 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 schools.
No Written Evidence of Bullying
When the girls finally were 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 reportedly tormented them. But Joseph said she refuses 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 otherwise, insisting that the district is doing everything it can to expedite the transfer.
"We conducted a full investigation into the accusations of bullying and found no information, no incident or evidence that bullying was going on," spokesman Fernando Gallard said.
Gallard added that the investigation did find that bullying had taken place in the neighborhood of the school and agreed that the situation warranted a transfer to a different school.
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."
But Joseph said the district isn't moving fast enough and, until the issue is resolved -- and Tiffany can attend a new school -- she'll be sitting at home.
"We read but there's no recourse, there's not much we can do," Joseph said when asked how her daughter is keeping up with her studies.
"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."