Kenneth Weishuhn, a 14-year-old high school sophomore in Paullina, Iowa, died of self-inflicted wounds after months of relentless bullying. Articles in Cedar Falls, Iowa, the Washington Post and the Huffington Post have described the town’s outcry. It’s true; Kenneth tried to minimize the bullying so it didn’t become worse. And he got some relief when the gang of bullies turned some of its attention on a pregnant student. And the school did hold an assembly after he reported the bullying.
After his suicide, school officials tried to cover themselves in the usual way. “Dan Moore, the superintendent of the South O’Brien Community School District, said administrators knew of only one incident regarding Kenneth and that he believes they dealt with it well. ‘I feel the school did address the issue that they were aware of when it came to their attention,’ Moore said. ‘Obviously, we had no idea that we’d have an end result like this, or what was going on outside of here.’”
There’s much more hidden below the surface of the principal's and Mr. Moore's lack of an effective response; especially the real fault that the administrators are trying to cover up.
Let's understand clearly. Mr. Moore thinks they addressed the bullying and abuse well because he did some processes, procedures and techniques, even though the harassment and bullying didn't stop and, in fact, got worse. And Mr. Moore thinks that performing some processes relieve him of responsibility.
What’s hidden here?
- The school principal, teachers and district administrator put all the responsibility for knowing about bullying on the reports they receive from students. They take no responsibility for knowing what’s going on under their noses. Every kid in school knows who the relentless bullies are and who leads the cliques and gangs. But they don’t tell.
- The school principal, teachers and district administrator haven’t created an environment, a culture, in which at least some of the many witnesses come forward, instead of remaining as bystanders. Why didn't the witnesses come forward? They know that nothing serious will happen to the bullies, but they’ll be exposing themselves to retaliation. They don’t want to become the next victims of bullying. What was the principal’s "stop school bullying program" at the start of the year, before there were any incidents? Were parents involved in the program?
- Despite their years of education, their advanced degrees and their special training on how to stop school bullies, the school principal, teachers and district administrator treated bullying as an “incident,” not as a pattern. Yet everyone knows that school harassment, bullying and abuse are rarely an isolated incident. These behaviors may start as an incident perpetrated by one kid instead of by a gang, but when nothing happens to the bully, bullies become bolder and more overt. When there are still no serious consequences, other bullies join in and bullying becomes a pervasive pattern. Pretty soon, other kids pile on. Bullying expands from emotional and physical abuse into cyberbullying – on and off campus. When relentless bullies get away with their worst behavioral impulses – taunting, teasing, harassment, physical, mental and emotional abuse – other kids let their worst impulses out.
Kids know who has the power. If the responsible adults turn the other cheek and bury their heads in the sand, kids know that the bullies are in charge. Behavior sinks to the lowest level. The culture becomes the "Lord of the Flies" on the playground, in the bathrooms and in the hallways.
When Kenneth Weishuhn reported what was happening, he faced an accomplish-nothing principal and district administrator who weren’t proactive in protecting him but, instead, would excuse and justify themselves by saying that they did the minimum required - even if it didn't work.