Bully Epidemic

I don’t know why but it seems that in the last couple of years stories about young people killing themselves allegedly because of excessive bullying in school have become more frequent in the media. It could be that we are becoming more aware of the problem or it could be that the world of media storytellers is finally populated with people who want to put that problem on the forefront of our conversation. Regardless, we are learning more and some aspects of that knowledge have ripped my heart.

Just today we learned that a school in New Jersey agreed to settle a lawsuit for 4.2 million dollars stemming from a student who was paralyzed after being punched in the stomach by a known bully. The suit alleged that the school knew about the bully and did nothing to protect the student.

And why would the school settle? Well, for one thing, three months before being punched the student, then only 12,wrote his guidance counselor. He said, “I would like to let you know that the bullying has increased… I would like to figure out some coping mechanisms to deal with these situations, and I would just like to put this on file so if something happens again, we can show that there was past bullying situations.”  

Lesson #1: report, report, report. Get it in writing. Make sure it is filed somewhere.

Of course, this is no consolation to someone who lost the ability to walk, but still he and his family did the right thing. Many states have laws that obligate schools to report and record every incident of alleged bullying. Find out what the law says in your state, use the law to the full extent.

Another settlement story comes from the now infamous school in South Hadley, MA. A student there, Phoebe Prince, who was originally from Ireland, ended up killing herself — again for allegedly excessive bullying in school. That case, however, is far from over, as there is a Federal Investigation going on now and there are six students who have been accused of a variety of offenses related to bullying Prince and their case is proceeding with possible trials on the  horizon.

Lesson #2: make sure your child is not among the ones doing the bullying!

From Minnesota comes another tragic story of bullying. Two students from Marshall Middle School, Haylee Fentress and Paige Moravetz, both 14, died in an apparent suicide pact, and left notes complaining of ostracism and bullying in their school. I don’t know about you, but when I read about a 14-year-old leaving a suicide note with instructions about her funeral, something inside of me wants to scream, “What’s wrong with this world? Why are kids so brutal to each other?”

Finally, a story that absolutely broke my heart. A student, Sladjana Vidovic, whose family emigrated from Croacia when she was only a little girl, died at her own hands at least in part because of what she complained was daily torture at Mentor High School in a suburb of Cleveland, OH. She said she had food thrown at her, she was mocked because of her accent, she was called “Slutty Jana,” etc., etc. Again, the parents complained, again little or nothing was done. Sladjana was the fourth student from that school to die at their own hands in the last two years and if you believe the accounts, bullying at the school played a big part in their decision to commit suicide.

Dr. Gus Sayer, superintendent of the school Prince attended, is quoted praising the progress that the school has made recently and makes this statement: “I think there is some belief that we are going to stop bullying, and that’s very unrealistic, it exists in every school.” There you have it. The highest school official, in the midst of terrible losses in the community, indirectly giving comfort to potential bullies. I am outraged. Believing that you can’t stop bullying is a self-fulfilling prophecy. We can’t accept it. Besides, this is the wrong thing to say at a time of great grief. How about no more bully related deaths? Can you make that your goal, doctor?

Lesson #3: some administrators, no matter how educated they are, will never get it, so you must keep pressing the issue.

Talk to your kids about this. Read these articles with them. Ask about their friends. Find out about what the law says in your state, talk to other adults in your circle of friends, and don’t ever give up the fight. One last thing, check out this new website, which was created to help people who are dealing with bullies: http://www.bullyville.com/.

Ivanildo C. Trindade