At the beginning of this school year I made the decision to transfer my daughter to another school. There were multiple reasons for this but mostly she was just unhappy in her previous school. The first three days of school this year Lexi came home in tears. My husband and I decided that no kid should hate 1st grade that much. A few phone calls later and she was enrolled at one of our rural schools. I have to say, it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. She has flourished both academically and socially. She has friends and adores her teachers. She is always very positive when she talks about school. The entire experience is 100% better than her previous school.
Recently my friend Christina confided in me the problems she is having with Lexi’s previous school district. Christina’s daughter Anne has been struggling with a bully in her school. Hearing Christina recount the situation just reinforced my decision to move Lexi. When I signed my daughter up for kindergarten at the previous school, the staff informed me that the school district had a zero tolerance policy on bullying and/or harassment. This concept made complete sense and quite honestly I felt better about sending my daughter to this specific school. However, we all know that even the best policies fail if they are not enforced correctly.
Here we are two years later and Christina is battling with the principal over what to do about the boy bullying her daughter. This boy has been nothing but horrible to Anne any time they have encountered each other. He has evidently been out of the school for a while and has recently returned. Last week he threatened to punch her in the face. Christina’s husband treks over to the school to discuss the situation with the principal where he finds out not only did the kid threaten to punch Anne in the face, but also threatened to or mentioned he wanted to kill her. The response by the school? Anne instigated it by telling this bully he was standing in the wrong spot.
Now I understand that kids will be kids and sometimes they will argue. Arguing is one thing but wanting to kill another person is completely different. Yes, it is entirely possible he didn’t mean it in the manner of which Anne took it, but does it matter? He has been a consistent threat to her ability to feel safe at school for more than just one school year. Not to mention, I thought this school had a zero tolerance policy. I wasn’t sure if the policy was still in effect or not because I had pulled my daughter from school. I looked it up on the schools website. This is what I found:
- “Harassment, intimidation, or bullying” means any act that substantially interferes with a student’s educational benefits, opportunities, or performance, that takes place on or immediately adjacent to school grounds, at any school-sponsored activity, on school-provided transportation, or at any official school bus stop, or anywhere conduct may reasonably be considered a threat or an attempted intimidation of a student or staff member or an interference with school purposes or an educational function, and that has the effect of:
- Physically harming a student or damaging a student’s property;
- Knowingly placing a student in reasonable fear of physical harm to the student or damage to the student’s property;
- Creating a hostile educational environment.
Okay, so I would like to point out that Anne has been physically harmed by this same bully in the past. He has pushed her into lockers along with other things. She has been feeling a reasonable fear of physical harm since he started threatening her again. How can all this NOT create a hostile educational environment for her?
Well, we’ve confirmed that she is being bullied, so what are the consequences for this boy? I have discovered that the school district, or at least this specific branch of the district, no longer has a zero tolerance policy. Here are the consequences as listed in the handbook:
Students whose behavior is found to be in violation of this policy will be subject to discipline up to and including expulsion.
THE SUBSTANTIATION OF A THREAT OF DEADLY FORCE MAY RESULT IN AN IMMEDIATE REFERRAL TO THE SCHOOL BOARD FOR EXPULSION.
Giving the benefit of the doubt to the school and this bully, we will say this was his first offense of menacing behavior. He threatened to punch her, but didn’t. There is his ‘warning’. Then come to find out he wishes to kill her. I would say that in the very least that would be a repeated offense of menacing or harassing behavior. His parents should be involved. Forgive me but in my experience, bullying doesn’t start at school. More often than not I’ve noticed that it comes from a parental figure. I may be a cynic and who knows, I could be completely wrong, but I honestly do not think calling a parent is going to accomplish much. It may, but obviously this is not the first, second or even third time he has repeated the exact offense. What good did it do in the past?
Previously, this same bully has physically pushed Anne into a locker more than once. He has shoved her in the hall while making his threats to do worse. I would say that qualifies as assault under the district guidelines – Intentional physical contact with another person which may cause physical injury. Yet this boy, this bully is still allowed to harass Anne and possibly other students. He has been terrorizing her for years both verbally and physically, but is still permitted on school property. How does this even make sense? My heart breaks for her. She deserves better. She should not go to school in fear of what this kid, and at least one other, may do to her.
Could her parents transfer her from this school? Definitely. That may happen next year. When they addressed this possibility with the principal, the reaction they received was not what I would expect. They were told that this boy was only there for part of the day and very well may not attend next year. The principal did mention they didn’t understand why they were having such issues with this specific boy. Really?! So it’s not just Anne who has to deal with him, but someone else? This same principal informed Anne she should not let one kid hold power over her. Excuse me, but when you are 10 years old and have gone through all the proper channels to report the abuse and nothing has come of it, how can you not feel defeated? Quite honestly if I were in her shoes I would have quit reporting it ages ago. What’s the point when the principal and administration REFUSE to act?
It’s puzzling to me how a school that has pushed bully awareness and advertised a zero tolerance policy in the past can let this happen. We live in a world post Columbine. We now have school shooting drills in our schools. We have police officers on campus even in our small town. Why are we willing to take these steps but not willing to resolve the issues before they get to that point? It really makes little sense to me. Sure the police liaison will be contacting Christina due to the mention of killing Anne. Again, why did it get this far? Why is it that this boy has the right to terrorize his classmates? Why is he allowed to disrupt their lives and threaten their ability to feel safe and secure at school?
So how do we handle it? How would I have handled it if I were a school official? I would have pulled the kid out of school before things escalated this far. Until this is resolved he should not be allowed to continue terrorizing fellow students. Maybe I’m wrong. Some of you may argue the other side, and that is perfectly okay. We are all entitled to our opinions. My hope is that this spurs a conversation. There has to be a better way of handling the bully epidemic because I can promise that the way it is being swept under the rug is not working. For all we know the bully is dealing with some serious home issues. That is completely possible. Nevertheless, how can anyone help him if we continue to ignore the behavior? How can we help Anne if we refuse to admit that this boy is a problem?
There really is no easy answer in this case. Nor is it in my direct power to do anything. If it were my daughter? She would not attend this school going forward. I would have pulled her even with only two weeks of school remaining. Until we demand better for our kids nothing will change. It is our duty as their parents to provide safe environments for them. Is that really the best solution? No. It would protect her from this one bully but does not solve the problem across the board. Yes, we will all encounter bullies throughout our lives and should be equipped to deal with them. But no one should be forced to endure like Anne. The policies set down by a school should be enforced. All we have shown Anne, and those in her situation, is that rules mean nothing. They are just put on paper to look good. Is that really something we want to teach younger generations?