Pelham student and PCS schools speak out on yearbook misprint, bullying

Published 2:07 pm Saturday, July 30, 2022

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By MICHELLE LOVE | Staff Writer

PELHAM – Former Pelham High School student Avri Gillispie finished her senior year remotely due to what she said was extensive bullying from her peers.

After she graduated, she said she thought it had ended, but that was before she recently opened her yearbook.

When it came time to choose her yearbook quote, she chose Abraham Lincoln’s quote, “I would rather be a little nobody, than to be an evil somebody.”

When Gillispie opened her yearbook after graduation, she found her quote was reduced to say, “To be an evil somebody.”

Avri Gillispie says her yearbook quote was shortened from Abraham Lincoln’s quote, “I’d rather be a little nobody than an evil somebody,” to “To be an evil somebody.” (Contributed)

Since seeing her quote manipulated in such a way, she said it brought back all the pain she felt from being bullied.

Her mother, Misty Gillispie, shared the photo of the misprint on her Facebook page and voiced her displeasure.

“Yearbooks are supposed to be the memories you get to keep forever, something you look back on and maybe one day show your children,” she wrote. “My daughter got to open hers and find that her senior quote had been changed to this… As a mother, it’s heartbreaking and infuriating that this was allowed to be printed and distributed today. After everything she’s been through… this is what she’s left with. As a believer, I believe that what is done in darkness will be brought to light!”

Since Misty’s post, Avri has received a large amount of support online and in the community. Avri also took to her Facebook to thank everyone who reached out to her to express their support. She also called on Pelham City Schools and other districts to actively address and take action against bullying in schools.

Avri and her parents have declined more interviews, but Avri has posted a thank you for the support on her public Facebook page:

“I’ve had a huge amount of people reach out to me the past couple of days,” she said. “I haven’t been able to get back to everyone just yet, but please know y’all’s messages and reposts mean the world. I’m not looking for payback for what was done to me, but rather awareness of what has happened and continues to happen. I want to see changes in Pelham and other school systems that will ensure kids safety and protection in school. I’m not perfect, I’ve made many mistakes as all kids do, but it’s the school system’s job to correct these mistakes: Not just overlook them. What happened to me should never happen, and I will not stop speaking up until the correct changes are made.”

Pelham Superintendent Dr. Chuck Ledbetter said upon being informed of the situation, he and the PCS team immediately began an investigation into the matter. Ledbetter said he felt the same thing the family suspected – that someone had tampered with Avri’s quote with malicious intent.

Ledbetter said after conducting interviews with yearbook staff and investigating the Google Forms related to the yearbook submission that enough evidence was found to determine nothing had been tampered with.

Ledbetter released a statement following the investigation to the public.

“Pelham City Schools has concluded that the online form submitted by the student only included the part of the quote that was printed in the yearbook,” he said. “The digital records provide evidence that no words were subtracted or added to the quote by any student or faculty member after the form was submitted by the student. We are committed to improving our final proofing process for the yearbook going forward.”

Ledbetter said the school is printing a correction for Avri’s quote, and no yearbooks will be given out until that correction is inserted.

Ledbetter said he had met with Avri before coming aboard as superintendent and she informed him of the bullying she had endured while attending PHS.

“I was very impressed with her and understood a lot of what she had to say,” he said. “As such, I’ve been working this summer to see how we can work to take care of every child and student and we are creating the culture that we want where we build strong relationships between faculty and students so everyone feels supported in the Pelham family. I am continuing to do that work.”

At the Pelham Board of Education meeting on Tuesday, July 26, Ledbetter and the other BOE members approved several resolutions related to promoting school safety, and Ledbetter said bullying is absolutely under that umbrella.

“We have what you might call exterior threat safety, which protects the schools from exterior threats, and we have the interior safety, which is where we make sure the schools do a good job of creating a culture where when bullying happens, we address it appropriately and have appropriate measures to make sure we take corrective actions,” he said. “We also need to make sure we are teaching all the time our students the right way to handle relationships. Those are things we are going to be working really hard on going forward.”

Misty and Avri are both committed to continue pushing the charge for change so others realize the problem of bullying among students in every school system.