This week I had a parent call me and tell me that her daughter had been threatened by a classmate via Facebook, and she asked if I would help solve this problem between the two girls. I asked the parent to email me what was posted and I would check with our administrators in the district to see what I could do. When I got the email of the posted comments I was surprised at how explicit and dramatic the threats were. The comments were between two students planning how to “beat up” another girl to keep her away from one girl’s boyfriend. The comments gave specific directions to the school with a time at which to do the deed. In fact, the threats were so explicit that the girl who was threatened was too scared to come to school. When I brought the emails to the principal of the school, she stated that there really wasn’t anything we could do since the threats didn’t happen on school grounds. I thought that seemed unfair since the bully was allowed to be in school and the victim was too scared to come to school. So the principal decided that the bully would be spoken to by the school resource officer and told about the seriousness of the internet threats and to stop the behavior. When confronted, the bully denied all actions, and when shown the actual emails, she was so angry that she decided to leave school grounds without permission. Later that day I got two more emails from the victim where the bully had continued her threats because now she thought the victim was a “snitch” and deserved to be beat up even worse. Those threats didn’t name names as the first ones did, but the context was pretty clear. I still didn’t know exactly what to do. I emailed major administrators in the district to discover what our cyber-bullying policy is. It turns out that we don’t have any specific cyber-bullying policy. As a group of teachers in a small program in the school district, we decided that it would be a good idea to keep the bully out of school while a risk assessment was conducted. That made the victim feel better and come back to school. I was part of the team which conducted the risk assessment and there were standard questions for the parents and the bully to answer, and we actually went to the student’s home to have them answered. After that, the staff got together to decide on a course of action. We decided that a safety plan should be in place and be agreed to by the bully before she could come back to school, so we developed a safety plan. The victim would continue with escorts to and from the building and within the building as long as she felt she needed it. The two students would also come together so the bully could apologize and assure the other student of her safety. I don’t think it’s enough for a district to say we have a zero tolerance policy on bullying. A district actually has to have a policy in place for how to handle it.
Friday, November 4th 2011 from 8:00 AM to 3:00PM at Essex High School in Essex, Vermont, the student body will be hosting a silent sit-in to protest bullying, discrimination, and harassment of all forms. Currently, the sit-in is quite extensive, with nearly 700 individuals confirmed for attendance; the Essex Free Press, Essex Reporter, and News Channel 3 WCAX have been confirmed to be reporting on the event.
The silent sit-in was prompted by a bullying incident, in which some students harassed a teenage boy who identified as gay. The harassing reportedly occurred twice, with one incident being on school grounds. Another group of students stepped in to defend the victim, and the situations were deflated. However, when EHS administration heard about these events, the students who defended the victim were punished, and the bullies let go without facing any consequences.
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