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Belmont High senior finishing classwork at home to avoid serial bullying at school

BELMONT — High School senior Ali Copp loves to write — so much so that she's rarely far from her laptop that contains her senior English project, about bullying.

Tall and slender with a quick but shy smile, Copp said she usually works on her English project while sitting on her couch at home. Her two small dogs are rarely far from her.

Copp said she sometimes wishes she was in school, but said that because of nearly four constant years of being the victim of bullying, she and the Shaker Regional School District administration decided it would be better for her to finish her two final senior classes from home.

Needing only two credits for early graduation in January, Copp works on her bullying project, communicates with her English teacher by e-mail, and takes an online U.S. History class. She said she always takes her history class at the same time of the day because it gives her some kind of structure.

Copp said her time in high school was one fraught with anxiety, stress and heartbreak. She said the bullying began in her freshman year when she fell out with three girls she knew from middle school.

Gradually, she said the bullying escalated to the point in her junior year when it became nearly intolerable.

"I didn't feel safe or comfortable," she said. "I would sit in the corner and didn't want to be there any more."

Copp said the bullying came in the form of physical threats, with one girl saying, "I'm going to beat your face."

She recalled times when she was shoved into her locker and some girls made attempts to trip her while she walked down the stairs. She said ugly rumors were circulated when she was out of school during her sophomore year for hip surgery.

She said the same girls threatened to "key" her car and threatened her again with physical harm. She said the threats came in person and via Facebook, Yik Yak, and other social media sights.

Copp said she began cutting herself in her junior year. To this day, the light scars are visible on her thin arms. At times, she said she was so miserable and so afraid to go to school that she contemplated suicide. She said she came close once.

Copp, like many young people, said she kept it all inside. Because none of the bullying took place where there were any adults around, she said she never had any evidence. She was able to confide in her mother, who was told by representatives at the school district that without evidence, there was nothing they could do.

Near the end of her junior year, Copp's mother, Ann Musa, said she pulled her out of school.

"I was afraid I was going to lose my daughter," Musa said, noting that last year a girl from Winnisquam Regional School District took her own life, allegedly in the wake of constant bullying.

Copp was taken to see a therapist and was put on anxiety medication.

For the balance of her junior year, she did her work at home and brought her assignments to her teachers after school, when she was given her new assignments.

After a summer of working and making friends with the management and students at Empire Beauty School in Laconia, Copp said she was initially looking forward to her senior year. She said she had already decided her senior English project was going to be about bullying and the management at the beauty school was so impressed with it that she earned a partial scholarship to attend.

Her goals are to become a cosmetologist and a public speaker about bullying.

Feeling confident about her senior year, Copp said she went back to BHS in September. "I really thought I was strong enough," she said.

By October, she said the bullying was worse than ever and that's when she made her decision to apply for the early graduation program.

Copp's breaking point at Belmont High School came about two weeks ago.

She had been initially assigned to a specific English class but her primary antagonist was also assigned to the same class. According to Copp, when the girl learned they were in the same class, she refused to attend, saying she "would beat Copp in the face" if they were in the same room.

She said she was transferred to a different English class with two of her lessor antagonists. Because of preassigned seating, she was placed between them.

She said things were manageable for her until about two weeks ago when the class was assigned to watch a movie.

During the film she said she could hear the two girls snickering at her and knew they were text messaging between them. She said she ignored it but had to look to her right in order to watch the film.

She said the girl on her right whispered to her to stop looking at her. Copp said she couldn't look in any other direction and still be able to see the movie. She said the girl kept hissing at her to look the other way.

"I snapped," she said. "I went to the teacher, complained about the telephone use and left the room to go to the girl's room."

"I just cried for about 20 minutes and I couldn't stop," she said. "No matter how hard I tried to stop crying, I just couldn't."

Copp left the bathroom and went to the guidance office. She said it took the guidance councilor about 30 minutes to get her to stop crying and to calm her down. Her mother was called and she left school for the day.

Both Copp and her mother said the building supervisors decided that since only those two English classes were available, it would be better if she learned at home. She agreed but said last week that she feels that she is the one being punished — not the alleged bullies.

In a letter that she addressed to Superintendent Maria Dreyer but was handled by guidance and administrative staff at Belmont High, she asked for permission to graduate early.

"I would still like to graduate with my class but, completing in January I believe would get me away from the immaturity of high school and allow me to focus on my future," she began.

"I have been nonstop bullied throughout all four years. My class of 2015 would be the worst. I need that time from February to June to gain the confidence to walk across that stage and receive my diploma in front of all those bullies, parents, and friends," she continued.

"I have been physically, cyber, emotionally and mentally bullied (to) where I didn't want to come to school anymore," she wrote.

Permission to graduate early was granted, said Dreyer, by the School Board and at the recommendation of the high school guidance and administrative team. Until The Daily Sun provided her copies of Copp's letters to school officials, she said she had never seen them.

Copp is still working on her bullying project. Her goal is to create a program she can take to middle schools in the state where she can talk to younger kids about bullying. As part of her project, she is working on a prototype bracelet with her motto "Stay Strong" emblazoned on it.

Superintendent Dreyer said Shaker schools have no tolerance for bullying and Copp's case will be investigated thoroughly.

"Unfortunately," she said last Thursday, "we have no evidence of this."

Copp and her mother were scheduled for a meeting on Monday with the administration about her plight. She said she was going through her Facebook account to find administrators the evidence they are seeking, in the process forcing her to relive some of her worse moments.

She has also filed a report with the Belmont police.

Ann Musa said a school administrator had asked the family to wait until their meeting before allowing her daughter's story to be printed. Musa said last Friday that they both wanted the story told, regardless of the outcome of Monday's meeting.

The both said it was something they felt they needed to do.

"I really don't want to see anyone else go through this," Copp said.

 

CUTLINE:(Ali Copp) Ali Copp sits on her couch with her lap at her house in Belmont. Instead of being in school, she studies at home because of what she described as constant bullying. (Laconia Daily Sun Photo - Gail Ober)

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