Dealing With Bullies

By Jeffrey Page

One of these days, boards of education are going to wake up and deal with bullying in locker rooms and corridors with the same intensity they’d employ if they discovered an extortion ring in the physics lab. To do less is to cheapen the lives of children.

Moreover, some recent cases have shown that bullying can be deadly or life changing for the child, and can be extremely expensive for the school district.

In Massachusetts two years ago, a girl couldn’t take the abuse from school mates any longer and hanged herself. In Ramsey, a student known to be a bully, attacked a 12-year old boy by punching him in the stomach. As a result, the victim is paralyzed for life and the school district’s insurance carrier had to fork over $4.2 million in a settlement.

But some courageous members of a high school football team in Texas have shown that there are effective ways of dealing with bullies – who often are cowards. At a school in San Antonio, a freshman was the victim of several bullies last fall, around the start of the school year, and this, as reported by the San Antonio Express-News,  is how a guidance counselor handled it.

She asked the coach of the football team if he knew of some members of the squad who might agree to simply walk from class to class with the bullying victim. Three players – the starting quarterback, right guard and right tackle – volunteered. The plan was simple. They’d pick the victim up at one class and walk with him to the next while chatting it up. Apparently there was just one confrontation.

And then it was over, and the previously tormented student became a regular with the players and their circle of buddies.

Now, the school administration has picked up the plan with athletes doing nothing more than lending a hand and being a friend with victims of bullies.

Meanwhile, The Record of Hackensack reported this week that the victim in Ramsey, Sawyer Rosenstein, had written detailed accounts of being bullied in school, and still was victimized.

Rosenstein’s tormentor had a known history of bullying and went right on even after the school board was informed. His final attack was in 2006 when he punched Sawyer in the stomach with enough force to cause a clot in a spinal artery. Sawyer was paralyzed from the waist down. He was 12 years old. Now he’s a first-year student at Syracuse University, remains paralyzed, and likely will be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

In reporting the settlement, The Record quoted the president of the Board of Education as saying that “character education” is part of the curriculum. But Sawyer suggested that “character education” hasn’t worked. “If they had taken corrective measures in the past maybe this would have been preventable,” he said, and noted that as a result of his life-changing injury, his attacker suffered the inconvenience of a few days on suspension.

New Jersey has strong anti-bullying laws but schools must enforce the rules if the law is to have meaning. It was Sawyer’s mother who placed her son’s experience in perspective.

“I wonder how many kids cried out for help,” Cheri Rosenstein said. “There are many Sawyers out there.”

Remember Phoebe Prince, the Irish immigrant in South Hadley, Mass. who was labeled an “Irish slut” and a “whore” by a group of students known as the Mean Girls? Through some perversion of logic, the Mean Girls conducted a cyber war against Phoebe because she dated a popular guy at school. They also attacked her with a beer can.

The abuse of Phoebe Prince reached her breaking point and she took her own life.

Several students were charged in connection with her death. Here’s how seriously the case was taken. One of the students, facing a rape charge, was allowed to plead guilty to a charge of criminal harassment, and was sentenced to one year on probation and 100 hours of community service.

Worse, the prosecutor said her investigation revealed that Phoebe’s torment had been observed by some teachers and administrators, who did nothing to stop it or to prevent its recurrence.

The next board of education needing to do something about bullying could do worse than speaking with a bunch of Texas football players who made school tolerable for some of their classmates.

One Response to “Dealing With Bullies”

  1. Michael Kaufman Says:

    And those are just the ones that have been publicized. Thanks, Jeff, for drawing attention to both the problem and to a successful approach to solution. I hope school officials in Warwick read your post.

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