Avoidable Tragedy – When it comes to bullying, schools need to be proactive

The indictments of nine teens on various criminal charges related to the bullying incident that led to the suicide of a 15-year-old high school girl hopefully will send a loud and clear message to teens and their parents that the time has come to end the bullying mentality that has become a part of our culture.

From the movie Carrie (based on the Stephen King book in which Sissy Spacek reaped her supernatural revenge at the prom) to Mean Girls to a host of other movies, bullying is seen as a teen, coming- of-age ritual. Even otherwise innocent TV shows, such as Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide, depict bullying as inevitable, though in a humorous light.

But as we all know by now, bullying is anything but “fun.” Similar to frat house hazing, drunk driving, kids and drinking, and other sorts of aberrant behavior that our society accepted as normal, bullying finally is being seen for what it is: a dark stain on our moral fabric.

However, kids are kids, i.e., they are immature. In addition, although the parents certainly should be involved enough in their children’s lives to know what is going on, the reality is that for most of the day, the schools, by which we mean the coaches, teachers, and administrators, are the ones who are with our children, day in and day out, for 180 days each year.

Although the public at this time does not know all of the details about what the South Hadley schools did or did not know, an interview on TV with a student at the school said it all: “Everyone knew what was going on.”

Our experience with teachers and administrators when it has come to bullying is that they play the old, “Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” game, (or as Sgt. Schultz in Hogan’s Heroes would say, “I know nothing!”). Yes, the schools have enough on their plates just trying to educate our children, and yes, they are grossly underpaid and undervalued by society.

But turning a blind eye to bullying in the schools is a form of child neglect. Although the district attorney has not filed any criminal charges against school authorities (and we’re not saying they should), we hope that the proposed anti-bullying legislation does place the onus on the schools to take action when bullying comes to their attention. Schools teachers and officials are mandatory reporters when it comes to child abuse and no one can dispute that bullying is a form of child abuse.

Unfortunately, it took a tragedy to bring this matter to the attention of the media, the legislature, and everyone else. But hopefully, with strong and meaningful anti bullying legislation, further tragedies will be prevented in the future.

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