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Bullying Part Two: The School’s Responsibility

mtJNzTcRecently, I posted an article about bullying. I asked if it had changed or if we, as a society, had changed. I think that this is a really complex answer and I don’t believe that it can be addressed with any measure of value in a series of blog entries. Still, this is my platform and bullying hurts my heart in a personal way, so this is my attempt.

My family has dealt with severe and powerful bullying on more than one occasion. A few years ago, a little girl at my daughter’s school decided that she didn’t like my daughter. It happens all the time and unfortunately, it’s something we all must get used to. It’s going to happen at some point or another. But this went above and beyond normal dislike. On a daily basis, she would find ways to tell my daughter that she was a pointless human being. On the playground, for example, she would send boys out to chase my daughter and ‘assassinate’ her so the world would be a better place. This is when I really started to see how much the school could and couldn’t do on her behalf. The girl who was bullying my daughter wasn’t actually in her class. This tied a lot of hands in the administration. They weren’t sure how to handle it since simply removing the girls from each other’s company wasn’t an option. According to the teachers, the only ‘games’ on the playground involved tag. They can’t  always regulate what kids say to each other or how they do it.

My daughter took her issues to her teacher – who promptly informed her that she needed to suck it up. Life was hard and she should ignore those other kids. However, the daily torment got worse and worse. The teacher, now understanding the issue, decided that she needed to toughen my daughter up. So she started a campaign of her own. She’d single my daughter out in class to toughen her up. Make her answer questions in front of the other students. Call her ‘out’ regularly for even the most minor infraction. As my daughter began to crumble, she realized it wasn’t good and at the age of 11, she went to the principal on her own. The principal was appalled at the realization that this was going on and immediately stepped in.

This is where things got sticky. See, there’s very little the school can actually do to help a kid being bullied. Their hands are tied with policies and rules from higher up. They went through their standards and practices – all of which were to bring both kids into the office and force them to try to be friends. They attempted to mitigate the situation by making the kids like each other.  That won’t work. Kids aren’t stupid. They know what answers teachers (and parents) are looking for. They simply need to give the ‘Sunday School Answers’ and then there’s nothing else the school can do.

The bullying continued. No one had a clue what to do. And there was a new element. The teacher. My daughter’s teacher was unhappy with being called out by the administration. She was not pleased to have a ‘mark’ on her reputation. Suddenly, my child who had all A’s all year long with glowing reports, started coming home with nasty notes about her behavior, constant critiques of everything she did, and nothing my daughter did was good enough. Literally. The torment from the bully was nothing compared to the teacher’s behavior. And even though the principal and administration recognized this, there was nothing they could do. The teacher had tenure. My daughter couldn’t be moved to another class because class sizes were all packed to the hilt already. The school’s solution? My 11 year old went to school every day and worked in the office with the staff.

This was when I realized how much rules, regulations and zero tolerance policies had affected our schools. The principal, a huge number of the teachers and many of the staff at the school saw what was happening. They all loved my daughter and understood how bad it was, but there was little to nothing they were permitted to do about it.  Their hands were tied.  It really underscored the core issue for me and this was why I decided to let go of public school for my family. No matter how much we liked the staff, administration and teachers (for the most part!) at my daughter’s school, there was little they could do to keep her safe enough to get her education.

To answer the question, bullying has changed, but so have we. It’s become more vitriolic and it’s more intense than it was 20 years ago. Kids aren’t just calling names – they’re literally threatening lives. A friend of mine made national headlines when her son threatened suicide due to a similar sort of bullying. Again, the school was unable to do anything to help him due to zero tolerance policies. The bullies understand the rules and are able to bend them to fit their needs. The schools are terrified to step outside the lines and do anything that might cause headlines or a lawsuit. So no one stands up against bad behavior.

We have changed too. The advent of the internet has created a society that’s rife with disrespectful people, anger, and vitriol that spews everywhere. Just look at the hatred and anger in recent elections! We need to wake up and teach our kids about respect, guide them in ways to always see others, and figure out how to actively pour good into society. That is the only way that bullying will ever be dealt with in a proper manner. And we must do this with and for our kids because no one else is going to stand up for them like we (their parents) will.