Why do we need federal laws to make bullying a crime and to require schools to have anti-bullying policies? The saga of Billy Wolfe should be enough to convince you. Over a year ago, the New York Times reported that Billy was being bullied relentlessly by two bigger guys from his high school in Fayetteville, Arkansas. He was beaten up in a bathroom at school and on the school bus and in shop class and in Spanish class. The bullies put up a Facebook page harassing him. A brother of one of the bullies even recorded on his cell phone camera, the bully getting out of a car, walking up to an unsuspecting Billy, who was waiting at a bus stop, punching him hard enough to leave a fist-size welt on his forehead and then showing the video around the school.
The authorities did nothing while the violence and brutality went on for three years. Billy’s parents tried to get the bully’s parents and the school authorities to stop the bullying but the assistant principal, Byron Lynn Zeigler, did nothing to stop it.
Oh, he said it was Billy’s fault and immediately suspended him. He blamed the victim. Days later Ziegler watched the recording and showed Billy’s parents that their son was innocent. But he didn’t stop the bullies.
Billy’s parents finally went to court. After almost a year, the court has ruled on whether to keep considering the motions on behalf of Billy.
Why do Billy and his parents need laws? Why do we need to require schools to have anti-bullying policies?
According to the story by Scott F. Davis in the Northwest Arkansas Times, although the court kept intact many of the charges, it ruled that the plaintiffs (Billy and his parents) failed to show that the school had an official policy that led to the alleged problems surrounding bullying.
Let’s put that in simple English. Assistant principal Ziegler argued that since the school didn’t have an official policy supporting bullying, it wasn’t the school’s fault that bullying occurred on school premises and they can’t be held liable for the bullying. Also, since the school didn’t have official anti-bullying policies, Ziegler didn’t have to stop the bullying; even that part of the bullying that occurred on school grounds. The court agreed.
Because there are no laws specifically about bullying and beating kids up, Billy’s parents had to try to use laws that are on the books against sexual harassment.
Now do you understand the need for laws that would require administrators to take proactive measures to prevent bullying on school grounds and also laws that would require administrators to stop bullying that’s brought to their attention?
The teenagers at school all knew what was going on. They saw the cell phone video. They knew that the legitimate authorities had turned their backs and given the bullies a free hand. When the responsible authorities allow bullies to control the turf, they allow violence and scapegoating, harassment and brutality.
Billy may have tried to fight back, but that doesn’t make him the problem. That just makes him one child against two bigger kids. And with the size disparity that often happens in middle school and high school, he can’t win without adult help. When his parents went to the school, way back at the beginning when it was only threats, the district wouldn’t act.
I’m sensitive to principals that don’t protect the victims because I’m from Denver. Remember Columbine High School.
Of course, the bullies’ parents are to blame for allowing their sons to act that way. But when schools tolerate bullying, the real problems are the administrators (principals and assistants) and teachers.
Have those ignorant, cowardly principals in Fayetteville not learned anything. There are many schools in the country which don’t tolerate bullying because the principals won’t tolerate it and, therefore, their teachers and staff won’t either. And the successful ones have no better statutes to back them. However, they do have consciences.
Whatever the court decides on the basis of law; shame on those adults. They have shamed themselves and their community. They are definitely not models who should be allowed to teach or administer for children.
On an individual basis, parents must teach children how to face the real world in which they’ll meet bullies all their lives, even if the children are small and outnumbered. That’s independent of the type of bullying – cyber bullying, physical bullying or verbal harassment or abuse. Help your children get out of their previous comfort zones and stop bullies.
True bullies will take empathy, kindness and tolerance as weakness. They’ll think we’re easy prey. It will encourage them, like sharks, to attack us more. Bullies will show you how far you need to go to stop them.