Principals didn’t stop school bullies and now there are more school bullying-caused suicides. In all of the cases I’ll describe, there were differences in the bullies’ methods of harassing and abusing their targets. But what was the same was that the parents complained and the responsible school teachers and principals didn’t protect the children in their care. Also the same was the principals’ or school district administrators’ defense: “We didn’t know.” To me, especially after the parents of the targets complained, that’s an admission of incompetence, delinquency and neglect. The other kids at school knew who bullies were and where, when and how it occurred; why don’t the college-educated, supposedly intelligent and responsible adults know?
I know that the first culprits are the bullies themselves and their parents. But I want to shine two lights: I know that the first culprits are the bullies themselves and their parents. But I want to shine two lights:
- First, on the responsible, but do-nothing adults in the schools – the principals, assistant principals, teachers, counselors, district administrators and school board members.
- Second, on the skills parents need learn in order to force inactive, conflict-avoidant, lazy, cowardly or uncaring principals to protect their children.
Notice the similarities in all these cases:
- In Texas, a straight “A” eighth-grader, Asher Brown, took his life 18 months after his parents claim to have reported on-going bullying by four other students. Despite the evidence of repeated conversations offered by the parents, the school district spokeswomen, Kelli Durham, whose husband, Alan Durham, is assistant principal, claims that they never knew and never had evidence. Nothing was done to stop the bullies or remove them.
However, numerous comments from other parents and students on the web site of KRIV-TV Channel 26, which also reported a story about Brown's death, stated that the boy had been bullied by classmates for several years and claimed Cy-Fair ISD in Texas does nothing to stop such harassment.
- A 13-year old, Texas eighth grader, Jon Carmichael, took his own life because of repeated bullying. Teachers and students in the school district had already undergone anti-bullying training after a similar suicide last year. Nevertheless, nothing was done about this case of repeated abuse. One of the admitted bullies, Chris Montelongo, said, "I can guarantee you it was most of the school who messed with Jon." But none of the responsible adults noticed and intervened.
- An 11-year old Oklahoma boy, Ty Smalley, committed suicide after being bullied repeatedly for about two years. Despite the parents contact with the school, teachers, counselors and the principal never saw anything and never stopped the bullying. The parents were told things like, “Boys will be boys” and “It would be looked into.” According to Ty’s father, Kirk, the school never documented any of these conversations so they can now claim that they never knew.
The event that precipitated Ty’s suicide was when he finally retaliated against the bully he was suspended for three days while the bully, previously identified to the teachers, was suspended for only one day.
- An eight-year old in a Texas Elementary school tried to commit suicide, but survived his leap off the balcony of a school building. He had been repeatedly harassed but school officials had done nothing. His mother said that teachers kept telling her they'd “handle it” when she complained about the bullying over the past seven months. The last straw for the 8-year-old was when he was told to leave his classroom after two other boys pulled down his pants in front of the class.
The principal, Linda Bellard, said teachers never informed her of the harassment until the boy's suicide attempt, although the child's mother had visited the school seven times since September to complain about the problem.
Each of these cases will wind their way through courts, settlements will be reached in some, some school administrators will get off because there aren’t specific enough laws that require them to act and we’ll probably never know the whole truth because we weren’t there.
As a parent whose responsibility is to ensure the physical safety, and the mental, emotional and spiritual well-being of your child, you need to know how to get appropriate action from principals and teachers who will resist acting strongly and swiftly to stop bullies. Your child’s self-confidence, self-esteem and life depend on your skill.
- Complain to teachers, counselors and principals. But it’s never enough to complain or even to keep a record of your visit and conversation.
- Give the responsible adults one chance. Do they remove the bully? Do they continue to monitor the bully and his or her friends for further retaliation? Or do they remove your child? Do they excuse the bully’s behavior as, “Kids will be kids?” Do they say that the bully has a right to be educated in classes of his or her choice?
- Use “The Lucius Malfoy” test. Is your child’s principal standing up to the bullying parents of the school bully? Or will he or she cower in front of bullying parents who say their child does no wrong or who threaten to sue the school if anything happens to their little darling?
- If your principal fails theses test you must bring pressure to bear - immediately. Remember that principals fear three things more than anything else: loss of job, publicity and law suits.
- Get a lawyer and media publicity. Learn what constitutes evidence and documentation. Record all communication. Communicate in writing and have proof that school officials received the letters you write.
- Bullying is rarely an isolated event. Unite with other parents whose children are bullied. Get witnesses who will put their evidence in writing.
- Have support for the long-haul. Find people who’ll keep your spirits up through repeated set-backs. Find experts to help you plan tactics at each step of the way.
Have great appreciation for principals who simply won’t tolerate bullying – who will have strong, proactive programs to train their staff and who will act swiftly and firmly in response to complaints. Training is never enough: strong and courageous people are required to make these programs effective. Have realistic expectations; don’t assume that principals, teachers, counselors and district administrators will be active in stopping bullies. Expect bullies’ parents to thwart your efforts. Expect most uninvolved people to look away. If nothing bad happens to bullies, expect other kids to pile on.
You’re on your own. Many children will give up if they’re not protected by adults; make sure that you know how to protect yours. Be the skillful advocate of your child’s safety and well-being.