Melody Knowlton said her ninth-grade son was choked last month by another student in the hallway at Oceanside High School West until he passed out.

School officials said physical violence at the school is rare. More common is verbal teasing and bullying, often on social media sites.

Knowlton said the school did not follow emergency procedures when her son was injured, including failing to seek medical attention or call a family member.

"He has eight emergency contact numbers and none of them were called," she said.

The attack stemmed from an exchange between two students. The student that instigated the assault said he did not like what Knowlton's son said to a female student.

Knowlton's son said he was talking to his friend, the girl, and their conversation did not concern the other student.

"The next thing he knew he was waking up to a friend screaming his name," said Knowlton.

The student had pushed him into a locker and choked him until he passed out, according to what the student told his family.

If a physical altercation occurs, protocol dictates parents are notified, the school nurse is called and in some cases, the police would be involved, said Oceanside West Principal Larry Schooley.

A teacher brought Knowlton's son to the guidance counselor and he retold what had happened, using the term "choked-out."

The school nurse was not in the building and was not called, Knowlton said.

Schooley said he is not able to comment on the specifics, as it is under investigation by police. There were no witnesses to the incident aside from fellow students.

Thomaston Police Chief Kevin Haj confirmed his department is investigating.

The nurse is usually only in a given school for about an hour and a half each day, and the nurse's time is apportioned between Thomaston Grammar, Oceanside West High School and Lura Libby School, said Schooley.

The injured student then told Assistant Principal Ed Hastings what had happened. Hastings asked if he was OK, and he answered he was fine, as he did with the guidance counselor, so he was sent back to class.

Knowlton said the staff was unfamiliar with the term "choked-out" and since her son was coherent, they thought he was fine. She said school employees didn't know that choked-out meant to go unconscious.

She said if the staff was unfamiliar with the lingo of the students, that they should have asked more questions.

"The key word is choke," she said.

The student was suspended, said Knowlton. Schooley confirmed consequential action was taken.

Following the incident, Knowlton's son went home to his grandmother's house and told her what happened. Two days after the incident, he stood, stretched and then fell to the ground and trembled, Knowlton said. It lasted a few seconds and he did not remember what had happened.

He was taken to the emergency room and the nurse said he could have been seriously injured by the attack.

"It really knocks you to your knees when they said this kid could have killed you," Knowlton said.

A nurse at the hospital called area police so the family could file a report, said Knowlton. A Thomaston Police Department officer went to the hospital to gather statements from the family.

Knowlton said an electrocardiogram, an ultrasound on his neck vessels, and a CT scan were performed on Knowlton's son and the medical team determined an air bubble was created in a neck vessel when he was choked, and subsequently shaken loose when he stretched and traveled it to his brain, causing him to pass out.

He has since been given a clean bill of health, said Knowlton.

The medical bill was several thousand dollars, and Knowlton said Superintendent Lewis Collins agreed to have the school's insurance company pay the bill.

Collins said he could not comment as the subject is confidential, but said if a student is injured at school, the district will work with the insurance company so the parents are not financially burdened if the injury is not the fault of the child.

The Knowltons do not have health insurance.

Following the incident, which occurred on a Friday, Knowlton contacted her school board representative, who notified the superintendent, she said.

Schooley was not in the building during the incident, but after learning about the choking he attempted to contact the parents the following Monday, Knowlton said.

Collins said the district tries to intervene as quickly and effectively as possible, ensuring that bullied students have a voice, adding that violence is not tolerated.

Collins urges parents to talk with their kids, build a relationship and be attuned to their behavior if they begin to act differently.

"Kids need to know they are loved and respected at home," he said.

Schooley said every school deals with bullying at different levels. Oceanside West deals primarily with verbal confrontations and cyberbullying that occurs at home and spills over into the school environment.

He added rhetoric online can get heated, and by the time students get to school they are seeking confrontation.

Schooley said cyberbullying and lashing out through the Internet is often done on school issued computers, adding it is up to parents to limit and monitor computer time at home.

He suggests keeping computers in a public place in the home, and encourage communication with parents to call or see either himself or Assistant Principal Hastings if they notice something amiss.

For some parents, Schooley said the economy is affecting how involved parents can be, especially if they are working two or three jobs.

Students are more likely to say hurtful and derogatory things through the Internet rather than do it in person, he said. Disputes are mostly over girlfriend, boyfriend issues, he said.

Online bullying content can be printed out or a screen shot can be taken to prove what has been said or done.

Investigations into complaints take a long time, Schooley said, adding that it is a difficult piece for the school to deal with as most of the interactions occur outside of school.

Computers can be monitored, and students that are suspected of improper use can be checked on by staff.

"I think they're [students] are getting the message that Big Brother is watching," he said.

Schooley said bullying is not something the school deals with everyday, and that the culture is improving from last year. He said bullying does not need to affect many students to be significant — one student feeling uncomfortable or unsafe at school is serious.

A lot of school officials' work is to be proactive, he said, talking with students, and trying to mitigate the strain of a disagreement and intercede before a situation escalates.

Schooley and Hastings said teachers are often in the halls between class, maintaining a presence in the hallway, where a verbal or physical confrontation is most likely to occur.

Schooley said it is school protocol to contact a parent if they notice a student is being bullied or teased.

Protocol is to call both sets of parents, the injured student and the injurer, see nurse, suspicion the student need medical attention, to call 911 and call police.

There have been no changes made to the policy, Schooley said, and he added the policy was reinforced to all staff members following the incident through a memo.

Feuds don't necessarily start with adolescents, conflicts arise as young as second grade, such as what the school dealt with last year, attempting to facilitate a resolution in a group of students that had bad blood since young childhood. Parents and police were involved, and it was under control.

Schooley said Oceanside follows a three-step implementation process, beginning with a warning, then a suspension and meeting with the parents, and lastly a meeting with the superintendent.

Regional School Unit 13 does have a harassment policy and Collins said he expects at the next school board meeting a bullying policy will be adopted.

Schooley said bullying and harassment are not necessarily getting worse through generations, but it is now taken more seriously.

The school is trying to send the message that students are obligated to report bullying or harassment, and to know that concerns will be dealt with.

Schooley said staff developing positive relationships with students is instrumental, and taking time to get to know students and encourage them to share and create trust relationship is crucial to abating the prevalence of bullying and harassment.

He added that restorative practices are used, which essentially consists of a circle meeting with offended or offending students, where they work on how to restore their relationship or situation during a designated period. Typically, each grade meets once a week, and the entire staff is trained to facilitate such assemblies.

In a verbal harassment situation, students go through a restorative practice methodology, bringing in other students, teachers and sometimes parents to work through issues.

If the plan does not work, a traditional consequence situation is followed, but Schooley said many students seek out and prefer the restorative practice system to deal with problems.

The school has a civil rights team, a gay straight after-school club, and student council to work toward improving school culture, said Schooley.

Camden Hills Regional High School does have a bullying policy in place and RSU 13 will soon be adopting their own plan.

Knowlton said she still does not feel at ease because the school acted callously.

She said when she went to the school to ask for a copy of the plan dealing with an injured student, she was given the emergency evacuation plan.

"If I didn't follow through, it would have been swept under the rug," Knowlton said.

Courier Publications reporter Juliette Laaka can be reached at 594-4401 ext.118 or via email at jlaaka@courierpubicationsllc.com.