October is Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, and there have been articles, interviews and specials focusing on the issue. I’m happy so much media attention is being given to this serious and important topic. I realize that bullying is a tremendous problem in our school system, but it never was one that hit really close to home.
In fact, if someone had asked me three weeks ago if I had any personal stories about bullying, I would have said no. I was never a victim of bullying, nor was anyone I knew growing up. I don’t have any knowledge of nieces or nephews having had to deal with it, which certainly would have placed me in the minority. Recently-released bullying statistics reveal that about one in seven students in grades kindergarten through 12th grade is either a bully or has been a victim of bullying. If you do the simple math, based on an average-sized classroom of 21 students, it is safe to say there are at least three students that are bullies or are being bullied.
Now, if you fast forwarded two weeks and asked me the same question about bullying, my answer would be very different. In fact, just about everything became different that Thursday afternoon when I learned that my youngest son has been the victim of a bully.
On that Thursday, my entire world tilted a little.
Nothing seemed different about my eight-year-old son when he arrived home after school, but when my older son practically ran over him and raced to where I was sitting in the living room, I knew that something was very wrong.
“Willis got sent to the principal’s office” was all it took to send my blood pressure on an upward trek. But when I turned to Willis, my heart broke – I literally watched the laughter in his eyes turn to sadness. His normally proud stature began to slip, and the words no parent ever wants to hear tumbled from his lips.
During recess, an older student and another boy were attacking one of my son’s friends, and that didn’t sit well with Willis, so he decided to try and separate the boys and protect his friend. The result was that the attackers turned on my son and began repeatedly punching him in the head and choking him. My son was sent to the nurse and then called into the principal’s office to give a statement.
I checked my cell phone, my email account and Willis’ backpack. I did not receive a single phone call or note from the school nurse or the principal to inform me of the incident and my son’s injuries.
I went from devastated to furious in two seconds flat.
I called the school repeatedly on Thursday and Friday, but did not actually speak with a school official until Monday morning – after I called three times.
I knew how the call would go.
I was positive that once I explained my anger and frustration at not having been contacted by the school about the incident with my son, the principal would issue a heartfelt apology and lay out a plan on how we were going to rectify the situation.
I had no doubt that after explaining my sadness at having to deal with my son’s nightmares, tears and hesitation to return to school, the principal would again apologize and invite me to the school to meet with the counselor so, as a group, we could come up with a program that would help my son emotionally deal with the physical and emotional trauma.
I got none of that.
The principal met my concerns and questions with a nonchalance I have never experienced from someone who deals with children in such an intimate setting. Not only was he completely unapologetic, but his attitude suggested that he was doing me the favor by taking time out of his schedule to entertain my “parental hysteria.”
It was a discomforting feeling to know that the principal not only didn’t have any answers but no plan on how to rectify the situation going forward. Little did I know that my parental hysteria, if you will, was only going to get worse.
The principal then goes on to tell me that not only was he aware that my son was attacked by an older student that is known by officials at the school to be a troublemaker, but that he himself witnessed the same student taking food from my son’s lunch box while in the cafeteria earlier that day.
“You watched one student take food from another student’s lunch box and didn’t say anything?” I asked him.
“Well, of course I said something” the principal replied smugly. “I asked your son if he was okay with the student in question ‘borrowing’ some of his food, and your son said he didn’t like it, but he wasn’t upset. So, I thought everything was fine and didn’t feel a need to say anything to the other student.” He then added that he didn’t think that this was the first time this had happened.
Again, say what?!?!
There is not a blog big enough for me to explain how I felt.
The school and its principal failed my child. The trust that I had in a system that was supposed to protect and nurture my son had been completely obliterated, and I’m still not sure how to completely get that back.
But as furious as I was with them, I was just as upset with myself. I felt like a failure as a mother for not being able to keep the ugliness of life away from my child. Mommy couldn’t kiss this situation and make it all better.
But I got over the guilt pretty quickly and went right back to being furious.
As parents, we expect school officials to protect our children – when they don’t OR won’t, it is our responsibility to make sure that our children are safe in all situations.
Not only did the principal not have a plan; he didn’t have a clue about who he was dealing with – a furious AND proactive mother. I escalated my complaint to the district level and after more than five meetings, not only had the principal been moved out of the school, but the bully had also switched to a different district. A plan was developed to prevent this type of situation from happening again, and the school will host an anti-bullying rally that I will organize.
It that doesn’t erase what happened. Willis has my genetic make-up and is already talking about all of the positives that we can take away from the situation. He recognizes that what happened to him is wrong and now feels better equipped to deal with a similar situation.
So do I. And I’m grateful for those who continue to speak up on behalf of not only the victims, but the bullies, who studies have shown may have been bullied at some point in their lives.
Even The White House held a conference on bullying prevention in March during which President Obama said that he hoped to “dispel the myth that bullying is just