The wave of stories about bullying since the beginning of the school year in this country shows no signs of stopping.
One of the latest stories pulls back the curtain on a settlement between the district and the family of a boy who was paralyzed by a punch to the abdomen by a known bully. (The hit to the abdomen was so severe it caused a blood clot in a major artery to his spine that left him paralyzed.)
The Ramsey Board of Education in New Jersey settled with the family for $4.2M. The district says the settlement was "the decision" of the insurance company and that they did nothing wrong.
No, the district was told how bad the evidence was against them, was counseled by the insurance company to pay out and now wants to say, we're paying but we deny we did anything wrong.
From the AP story:
Sawyer Rosenstein was 12 in 2006 when he was paralyzed after being punched in the abdomen by a student whose bullying he had previously complained about.
The family's lawsuit alleged school officials knew or should have known the boy's attacker had violent tendencies and failed to comply with a state anti-bullying law, said the Rosensteins' attorney, Jeffrey Youngman. The boy had punched another student in the face on a school bus a year earlier, but the school kept no record of it or other attacks and the attacker was not subjected to escalating discipline, the suit said.
Just three months before being punched, Rosenstein, then 12, emailed school officials to report he was being bullied and to ask for help.
"I would like to let you know that the bullying has increased," he wrote to his guidance counselor at the Eric Smith Middle School. "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."
Rosenstein is now a first-year student at Syracuse University and says he decided to speak publicly about the case to show that students can recover from being bullied - and to try to make would-be bullies think twice before they get violent.
Imagine if school officials had expelled the bully after the first incident. Or the next one. Rosenstein was begging for help and had the presence of mind to get it on paper in a file somewhere and yet it still continued.
Then there's the story of a 10-year old boy in Ohio who is small for his age and wears ankle braces who brought a BB gun to school to get his bullies to leave him alone.
The boy, who was charged with the delinquency count Monday after police were called to an elementary school in the suburban Cincinnati village of Elmwood Place, also told police that some boys "stuffed him in a trash can" about a year ago, police Sgt. Kevin Vanover said. Vanover said that incident apparently was not reported to police.
Of course, this boy should not have brought any kind of weapon to school. But it sounds like the boy was being singled out for humiliation. (On a personal note, kids love to tease for many reasons. But, of course, they like to look for smaller people who they can also physically intimidate.)
What is interesting is that while many school officials do not seem to be calling police for what clearly are crimes, there is also a wave of school officials calling police when they can't handle behavior situations.
The latest story is from Georgia where a 6-year apparently was having a major meltdown (throwing books and toys and throwing a small shelf at her principal). The police took her away in handcuffs (because their policy is to handcuff everyone they arrest). They did not charge her with anything.
In New Mexico, a teacher asked a 13-year to stop talking to a friend and move to another seat. The girl said no and the teacher called the police.
From the AP story on this issue:
Frustrated teachers aren't getting enough support from above to deal with increasingly extreme student behavior, from sexual harassment in elementary school to children throwing furniture, said Ellen Bernstein, president of the Albuquerque teachers' union.
"There is more chronic and extreme disrespect, disinterest and kids who basically don't care," Bernstein said.
Experts and educators point to a number of factors that lead to the arrests: Some officers are operating without special training. School administrators are desperate to get the attention of uninvolved parents. And overwhelmed teachers are unaware that calling in the police to defuse a situation could lead to serious criminal charges.
The police are not excited about, well, playing cop in these situations. I'm assuming that in the case of the 6-year old, they were worried that their efforts to restrain the girl might cause them to get sued or hurt or both. (She was suspended for the rest of the school year and I hope her parents get her some counseling.)
You have to wonder about the backstory here. Do some kids cause so much disruption that the school/teacher just one day give up and call the police, hoping it will shock the kid/parents into some change? Do teachers/administrators realize the escalation that calling the police will cause?
We are all parents and I'd say 99% of us have experienced frustration with a child who was acting out, being stubborn, being disrespectful or hurtful to you or their siblings, and so on. I can fully understand how teachers can be even more frustrated trying to give a lesson with students disrupting the class.
But I've said this before - schools and school districts need to have clear and consistent policies around student behaviors. If students know that their behavior will not be allowed or given attention in class, you have a fighting chance of changing that behavior.
(This is something that KIPP does well. Your class is a team and if you are not on task or disruptive, you get "benched", meaning you stay in class but away from classmates and that means not eating lunch with classmates, talking to classmates, etc.. The parents and students have to read and sign the KIPP handbook. It has clear rules about cell phones, electronic devices, toys, etc.)
That too many students are being bullied and finding no relief AND teachers/administrators are so frustrated by out of control students that they call the police for help points to some kind of disconnect about student behavior and controlling it.