Sawyer Rosenstein, 12 -year-old seventh grader from New Jersey, was bullied for months until the bully punched him and left him paralyzed. He received a settlement of $4.2 million from the school district. A claim against the bully has also settled, but details are confidential. And, Sawyer is still paralyzed for life. Reports from the New York Daily News and the Morristown Personal Injury Blog make clear that:
- Three months before the final incident, Sawyer reported previous incidents of being bullied to the school in writing, but no responsible adult – principal, teachers, therapists, district administrators – stopped the school bullying.
- "Additionally, the same bully that injured the boy had previously injured another student, yet no serious action was taken."
- New Jersey has a strong anti-bullying law. Nevertheless, his experience “shows that schools have a great responsibility to make sure that these laws are enforced in order to prevent students from being injured by bullies on school property.”
“The Board of Education released a statement Wednesday denying any wrongdoing and saying that it was the district’s insurance carriers that decided to enter into the settlement and will pay it out. ‘The district’s character education and harassment/intimidation/bullying initiatives and reporting practices are leading edge,’ the statement said. ‘All programs in this area far exceed all of the criteria established by the state of New Jersey.’ … The board said the settlement did not include any admission of liability or fault on the part of the district.”
What’s wrong with the school board’s basic assumptions?
Of course, the local Board of Education has washed its hands of all responsibility, claiming that they followed the correct procedures. Thy used the same type of defense that the do-nothing principal and district superintendent used after the suicide of Iowa teen Kenneth Weishuhn.
The people on the Board of Education, the principal, teachers, therapists and district administrators seem to feel that having a process; a program, initiatives and reporting practices is enough to cover them. If negativity, harassment, abuse, or physical, mental and emotional violence occurs, it’s not their responsibility. If they victimize students, it’s not their responsibility. They were just following orders and procedures.
They think they’re not responsible for results, only for process. They think they’re not responsible for stopping school bullying, only for pushing paper.
That lack of accountability may work for adults in education but for the rest of us, with real jobs, results count. Even the kids taking tests are held accountable for performance and results.
Obviously laws are never enough. It’s the people who administer the laws who are responsible for protecting us. Or these incompetents settle for ineffective responses and leave it at that. They lack the will to stop bullies.
Little children usually can get away with charm, potential and promises. But as we cross past approximately 5th grade, we enter the time when those qualities count less and less, and results count more and more. That’s a hard transition for many people to make. When we get to be adults, we’re evaluated by the results we produce.
Obviously, the 12-year-old bully was in the transition, but how about the adults who were responsible for protecting all their students? When are they going to be held personally responsible?
Following the rules or processes is a minimum standard. The correct standard, by which school authorities should be judged, is whether they get results. Thomas Alva Edison once said, “Hell, there are no rules here – we’re trying to accomplish something.” Of course large organizations like school districts need rules and processes. But those are judged by whether they produce the desired results, not by whether they’re being followed. Following processes is never enough; results count.
What can you do if you’re a parent trying to protect your child from such irresponsible incompetents?
- Never let authorities get away with thinking that their responsibility ends with initiating some process. Demand results.
- Immediately find a lawyer and generate publicity.
- Hold teachers, principals, district administrators and boards of education accountable for performance and results. Your children are trying to survive. Only results count.