"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

Search This Blog

Friday, April 20, 2012

A Win For the Victim Of Bullying But No Real Solutions to Bullying Coming From Policy Makers

This week's lawsuit settlement by the Ramsey Board of Education, paying former student Sawyer Rosenstein $42. million, while not a legal admission of "a violation of any law or duty owed to the Plaintiffs,” (from the official RBE statement), is certainly an indication of failure of any anti-bullying policy or program the school had.  The facts of this case are these. Sawyer Rosenstein sent emails to officials at Eric Smith Middle School – a guidance counselor, an assistant principal – about the harassment he experienced from another middle school student.  He wrote:
“I would like to let you know that the bullying has increased. I would like to figure out some coping mechanisms to deal with these situations, and I would just like to put this on file so if something happens again, we can show that there was past bullying situations."
The school took no action at that time to address the grievance or protect Sawyer. On May 16, 2006, three months after he wrote this e-mail, the same bully punched Rosenstein so hard that he fell to his knees. Two days later, he screamed out at home.

"We picked him up and called an ambulance," his father told the newspaper. "He hasn't walked since."

For as much as focus as there is on bullying these days, there are few success stories about programs to stop it.  Most of the programs simply identify it or allow some reporting mechanism. The actual stopping of it is far more problematic for school districts.

 Psychology Today reported, "School principals, in particular, are going nuts today dealing with bullying issues. Never have hostilities been higher. When the school administration gets involved apprehending, investigating, interrogating and judging bullies, kids get angrier at each other and the alleged bullies get angry at the school administration. The parents of the kids get angrier at each other. Whichever set of parents feels the administration is unfair to them gets angry at the administration, goes complaining to the school district, and sometimes hires lawyers to sue the school or district. Rather than bringing peace to schools, anti-bullying laws are turning them into war zones. Anti-bullying laws are a Catch 22. They require schools to eliminate bullying by treating it like a crime, but the very attempt to enforce the laws creates an intensification of the bullying problem."

Many schools have adopted a policy of "We didn't see anything here,"  which is ironic as, my son pointed out, they have cameras all over school saying "Smile, you're on camera." If schools don't admit they have a problem, there is no record, they can't be found at fault.  That becomes a truly advantageous position to be in whether you have angry parents swearing their darling was not the instigator and threatening to sue, or parents swearing their child was bullied and threatening to sue.  There is no evidence to prove the school did anything wrong, and that's what they are most worried about.

In cases where the school truly doesn't know what happened because there were no witnesses, many have adopted a policy that would never fly in a regular court in an assault case.  Similar to the reasoning that a woman wearing something that could be considered provocative was "asking" to be raped, many schools have decided that if you were in there fighting you must have added to the problem in some way and are therefore also guilty. 

This happened to nine-year-old Nathan Pemberton of West Elementary School in Colorado who was suspended from his classroom this week following a physical altercation with a bully who had been harassing Nathan for weeks. "In accordance with the school’s policy on fighting, both the bully and victim were punished."

Nathan's parents made the only decision they could.  They decided they would rather see their son suspended and whole, than damaged but in compliance with the school's policy. They told him he had the right to stand up for himself and fight back.  He was suspended, but if his story ends as many other similar stories do, he will not have to fight again. There is anecdotal evidence that standing your ground earns you the "street cred" necessary to stopping the violence. The problem may be solved, but the school gets off scott free and Nathan will have a blot on his permanent record. It doesn't seem right.

Sawyer Rosenstein's email in 2006 turned out to be the key piece of evidence that won the settlement for him. In his case the damages were not merely punitive. "Rosenstein was paralyzed from the waist down due to a clot that had formed after the blow in a major artery above his abdomen. When the clot moved down to his spine, it burst, leaving him paralyzed. Complications resulting from his paralysis, such as scoliosis, led to 19 surgeries and a complete spinal fusion. He almost died several times, Youngman said." (MSNBC)  The family has a lot of current and future medical bills that they are going to need to cover. The bully's family also settled out of court, but school districts have much deeper pockets.

American experts agree that at least 25 percent of students across the nation are bullied in traditional ways: hit, shoved, kicked, gossiped about, intimidated or excluded from social groups. Another survey of student ethics reported that 47 percent of students had been bullied in the last year.

The National Association of School Psychologists reports these facts about bullying:
  • Bullying is the most common form of violence in our society; between 15% and 30% of students are bullies or victims.
  • A recent report from the American Medical Association on a study of over 15,000 6th-10th graders estimates that approximately 3.7 million youths engage in, and more than 3.2 million are victims of, moderate or serious bullying each year.
  • Between 1994 and 1999, there were 253 violent deaths in school, 51 casualties were the result of multiple death events.  Bullying is often a factor in school related deaths.
  • Membership in either bully or victim groups is associated with school drop out, poor psychosocial adjustment, criminal activity and other negative long-term consequences.
  • Direct, physical bullying increases in elementary school, peaks in middle school and declines in high school.  Verbal abuse, on the other hand, remains constant.  The U.S. Department of Justice reports that younger students are more likely to be bullied than older students.
  • Over two-thirds of students believe that schools respond poorly to bullying, with a high percentage of students believing that adult help is infrequent and ineffective.
  • 25% of teachers see nothing wrong with bullying or putdowns and consequently intervene in only 4% of bullying incidents.
The last two points are critical.  Two thirds of students believe schools respond poorly to bullying (and news reports seem to prove them correct.) And teachers (the adults kids are supposed to go to for help with bullies) only intervene in 4% of bulling incidents.

Parents - if you think your kids' school is going to protect your kids, think again.  They are first and foremost going to protect themselves. You must be the ones who take action because if you wait for the school to do something, you may be too late to protect your child. Zero tolerance policies like those in Colorado must be abolished. Children must be allowed to defend themselves. Administrators who decide to enact their own personal zero tolerance policies need to be called on the carpet every time they punish a victim and fired if they continue to mete out such punishments. Failure by the school's parents to take these kinds of actions can set that school up for a Columbine experience.

 Parents had more advice for other parents with kids who are being bullied (from MSBNC),
The key part of this story is the documentation. And, the documentation has to be something that is not in the hands of the school. The school will "disappear" all documentation in the case of an injury (probably before). Meetings with a principal are going to be written down by the principal (do you really think that s/he will put down anything that will make the school liable?).

Yes, the email messages were key. Everyone needs to be CC'd on the matter, and everyone should take to doing this. Each incident should be written up and emailed. The student should be able to document, and have a document that is recognized in court, of his/her own version. Once students who are bullied start to document the bullying, and parents have access to documents which will be recognized in court, then something can be done.
Schools figured out long ago that if no one speaks to the press and they keep all their own documentation private, that no one can do anything. Theoretically, one has a right to the documentation kept by the school and by teachers--but try to get it. I did once, and the principal knew full well that if I got a copy, I could sue. I never did get the documentation -- and my daughter was treated badly from then on. Someone needs, also, to enforce the law that says that one should be able to get documentation--one should not have to hire a lawyer just to get schools to comply with the law. A certain number of cases in which they refuse, and the principal should be immediately fired.

School administrators that have accepted it for years as "rites of passage" are learning that bullying is not, nor ever was, "innocent fun" just because the perpetrators were usually the cool popular kids from good families. They were in denial and now are facing real life in this age of instant media.

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree. my son was also bullied and has injuriies that will last a life time, and got no where with a law suit now the only option is to file in federal court but funds are not there, im kinda at my wits in on what to do. the high school principal did not report to police i did which is in violation of the safe school act. i wish someone could help me and my child


Keep it clean and constructive. We reserve the right to delete comments that are profane, off topic, or spam.

Site Meter