Every year, the school district that my children attend, invite a gentleman to give an assembly to the many schools and parents on the awareness and dangers of bullying.
John Halligan and his wife’s worst nightmares were realized when their son chose to end his life at the age of 13, in 2003, after relentless bullying, both on line, and in person.
As a child, I myself was bullied relentlessly, daily during my elementary and junior high school days. To this day, over forty years later, I still have no idea why. I know I was short. Shy. Introverted. But I was an easy target because I was also known to not defend myself in a fight. I had been taught to turn the other cheek and walk away. My reward for taking the high road was usually a hit in the back of the head. I believe the only thing in my favor, was that the internet did not exist back in the 1970’s. Having no adults to support me, or defend me, had the internet been available, I probably would have found others in my similar situation, and they… may have had a solution for me.
In my adult life, I was involved as a youth leader with high school and middle school aged kids. Dealing with bullying, accidental deaths, and of course suicide was not an uncommon situation. Someone in my group would always know someone who was battling a difficult situation. It is a shame, since the day I started college, and wrote my first piece on teenage suicide in America, things have not gotten better in over 30 years, which I definitely attribute to the internet and social media.
I got to meet Mr. Halligan several years ago, when I was campaigning for school board of my children’s school district. One of my campaign issues was safe schools, definitely an anti-bullying platform. Ironically, the current school board was often used as an example of bullying for tactics used during meetings. At the same time, I volunteered as a parent rep for a pilot program, called Olweus which was a multi-level bully prevention program. This program would consist of several layers from staff to parents, and several steps to handle bullying as close to when it starts as possible, even prevention.
For the year that it started, there was a lot of excitement for the Olweus anti-bullying program. But there was also a lot of work, expenses, and cynicism. Teachers already had a lot on their plates between lessons and testing as well as other support they provided for their students. In order for the program to be successful, that meant that all the elements of the program needed to be kept up to date, and that would cost money. And the cynics would play their part, the only purpose of the anti-bullying program was for the district to look like it was trying to do something. Now, the program is gone in less than four years.
My daughters have another five years of school left. And I am sure bullying will not go away on its own, just as I sure that school districts will continue to turn the other cheek, protect the rights of the bully over the rights of the victim. Yes, both are entitled to a safe and free education, but that does not give the right to ignore the horrendous and terrifying bullying that millions of children must put up with.
Even when a parent tries to do something on their own to prove bullying is occurring, such as Sarah Sims of Norfolk, VA, who actually placed a recording device in her elementary school-aged daughter’s backpack, to capture proof of the bullying. Unfortunately, the device was not able to do so, which it most certainly would have, because it was confiscated by the school. And not only was it taken away, but then the mother was charged by police with a felony, (punishable up to 5 years in prison) for intercepting wire, electronic or oral communications, along with… get this… contributing to the delinquency of a minor. THE MOTHER WAS TRYING TO PROTECT HER DAUGHTER!!!! The charges have since been dropped. But this is a glaring example of how school districts lack any balls to protect the victims of bullying over concerns of lawsuits by parents of the perpetrators. School districts do not want proof of bullying, so that they can claim it is not an issue in their school. Two other students over the last few weeks ended up with similar and tragic conclusions.*
Bullies of 13 year-old Rosalie Avila of California evidently feel that it was not enough to drive the child to suicide, but continue to harass the family of Rosalie with such an ugly post, “‘Hey mom. Next time don’t tuck me in this,’ (a bed). ‘Tuck me in THIS,’ (a grave). Her diary pointed to endless ridicule about her appearance. As of this posting, Rosalie remains on life support. The bullies… remain in school.*
Ashawnty Davis was a 10 year-old 5th grader in an elementary school in Colorado. She hung herself. She chose to confront her bully, which resulted in a fight, which was videoed, then shared on social media. Of course the school district made sure they were in the clear, stating that the fight did not occur during school hours. Great, glad to know that you (the school district) did all you could to prevent this tragedy from happening.*
Bullying has gone on from decades. Through my entire elementary and junior high school education, I was bullied. To this day, I still do not know why. As a candidate for school board, one of my top priorities was to take bullying in school head on. And the attitudes of school districts continue, both bully and victim have a right to education.
How many more children will die because no one wants to take responsibility for their roles, schools and parents? And if bullying is going to be treated as a right to the perpetrator, then what can be done for the rights of the victim?
Here is what you can do in the mean time. If your child is bullied, report it to the police. It is then dealt with as a civil matter, not a school matter. And then, the bully, and their parents, will still have their rights to education, but will also be held accountable for taking away the rights of another student just trying to learn.
*these paragraphs were documented from the web site “The Raw Story”, though they were also available on numerous other web sites as well.