Mother, Who May I Bully? Read Me the List.

I’m finally home from a longer-than-planned trip to London…imprisoned, so to speak, under the Ash Cloud. Yesterday, we relaxed and spent the afternoon watching the Old Movie Channel. I’m always interested when viewing those old films to see how our culture has changed. Drunkenness was once a source  of much benign humor…”slapping the little woman around” brought no consequence. Thankfully, things have changed.

I think the Phoebe Prince case signals another swing on our cultural axis….very similar to what happened just a decade or so ago with drunk driving. Suddenly, a line was drawn in the sand, our tolerance level was breached…and our justice system signaled that the game had changed. Real prison terms were handed out; parents went to jail or were successfully sued for allowing minors to drink at their homes; our cultural free pass was revoked. It must have been surreal to those who first were convicted or bankrupted as this monumental reverse of fortunes landed squarely on them. “But, but…but…everyone drinks and drives.  But, but…but all kids have beer at parties…”

But when society at large becomes largely repulsed by certain behaviors…consequences change…. and the changes and consequences  MUST begin somewhere.

I think, in regard to the tolerance of school bullies…the six indicted Bullies of South Hadley High are going to find the New Way Forward begins with them. It commences with them paying a severe price for their relentless targeting of Phoebe Price. If they receive any slap on the wrist here…that will reverberate as our society condoning their alleged brutish behavior. It will mark a new low in even the basest level of decency we expect from ourselves and our children. These trials will trumpet a message across America. South Hadley High will either be steam cleaned by our justice system of the moral filth and crud festering in the alleged apathy of its staff and the alleged open cruelty of those accused…or it will be open season on your children and mine.

One message or the other…that’s it.

The question has arisen…will sullying Phoebe’s memory…be a winning strategy in court? Well, ask yourself this….if a drunk driver crosses the line on the Interstate and kills the occupant of another car….will any personal “defect” of the victim mitigate his punishment? If it can be proven that the Accused waged this relentless campaign against Phoebe…what exactly about Phoebe gives them the right to harass, to mentally torture, to verbally abuse …even to mock in death?

What?

What kinds of people do we decide as a society are free targets for others to vent their rage upon?  Please list the personality faults, the habits, the diagnoses, WHATEVER…that mitigate the alleged horrors these kids supposedly inflicted on Phoebe?  Come on…tell us…so we can forewarn the weakest among us…just to whom we deny society’s protection.  Because I want to know…don’t you? Am I or someone I love…on the Free to Torment List?  Perhaps if Phoebe’s family understood that she did not QUALIFY for even the lowest standard of care by staff at South Hadley High or qualified as a Cruelty Target for her Classmates…they might have made choices that rescued her.

The trial of the alleged Bullies of South Hadley High will define all that for us.

Give us a List.

Or not.

If there is any type of person that our society has selected as a communal punching bag at our public schools….they’ll tell us by letting these Bullies walk away with no severe consequence.

Yes, these trials will be a message.

But if there is no justice for Phoebe…the real cost will be paid in years ahead, in other schools, by other children….others on the list of acceptable Targets…The Unprotected.

Wait and see.

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THe Capitol City of the Denial Nation

I’ll be traveling the next two weeks…but if opportunity presents itself…maybe on long , long flights…I hope to add to the Blog.

Phoebe’s tragedy is such an important lesson: we cannot allow those who failed her in life…to flail at her memory or hide behind feeble excuses now… just to cover their culpability. Many other children remain in their “care.”  Moreover…what happens in this  South Hadley case will reverberate…or not…throughout other communitues and other school systems.

There will either be concerted change or…continued complacency. We will help that choice be made by continuing to be a voice for Phoebe.

It seems almost every day we read of another child lost to this same type of brutal campaign of Bullying. When we stand with Phoebe, we stand with them too , and all those who today feel alone, unable to cope, and without any authority figure to offer solutions or solace.

Ignorance is no excuse among professionals; tolerating thug-like behavior in public schools where attendance is mandatory and escape for victims, barely manageable, is of itself… professionally intolerable.  Why should the victim have to flee and disrupt his/her education because the school refuses to provide  sanctions to the Bullies…and therefore a safe learning environment for all?  Why is the onus placed on the VICTIM, first by the Bullies and then by apathetic, enabling staff and faculty?

A three month campaign in a contained school atmosphere , among a close knit school community…means either outright professional neglect or downright apathy.

Please.

Here’s a bold idea.

Superintendents…SUPERVISE the learning enviorment in your schools.

Teachers, educate yourselves about Bullying.

South Hadley, embrace this tragedy for a learning experiment and lead…not have to be dragged forward…as examples of what should and should not be done to save our children’s lives and psyches from this current intolerable cycle of Bullying.

Right now, in my opinion,  you look like the capital city of the Denial Nation.

It’s a pitiful sight.

Teachers, Apathy, and Phoebe’s Trail of Tears?

“Nearly three months after 15-year-old Prince took her own life after a slew of relentless bullying attacks, the president of the South Hadley teachers union yesterday issued a strident defense of high school staffers, saying many were “shocked” to learn of the extent of the teen’s alleged abuse.

“Some in the media have painted a picture of South Hadley High School as a school out of control – a place where everyone knew of the bullying and no one did anything about it,” Bill O’Neil, head of the South Hadley Education Association and a teacher at the high school, wrote in a letter to the Herald. “That image is just plain wrong.”

http://www.bostonherald.com/news/regional/view.bg?articleid=1246759

They were “SHOCKED!” SHOCKED , Bill says.

PHUL-leeze!

Okay, Bill…let’s review.

For some reason, last Fall, Gus Sayer and his administrative Goodfellas decide to spend money to call in a Bullying expert. Now, maybe cash was just overflowing the school coffers there in South Hadley, and the administration just couldn’t think of any other way to spend it…but if not, logical minds might infer you all knew you had a culture of Bullying in the school. Something spurred that decision.

That said…the calling in of a professional Bullying expert might have been your first clue, Bill.

WE KNOW you knew you had a problem.

Moving right along…into this known culture of Bullying…now comes a transfer student from another country…whose family alerts the administration that she might be susceptible to….guess what… Bullying!  You know…the problem you just sought help for! Are lights flashing now?  Red alert!  Red alert!

“South Hadley High has a problem we know about and now here comes a kid VULNERABLE to just that problem! All hands on deck!  Red Alert!”

Right?

Assuming, the Administration, in a district with a Bullying problem WOULD DO the responsible thing and offer this child an increased level of observation…logical minds might infer the staff and faculty got a heads up here.  I mean this is like someone with a nut allergy being forced to work in a peanut butter factory. Surely, word was put out to be aware of Phoebe?

If it was, that was your second clue.

If not, Gus Sayer and his Principal are unfathomable, despicable failures at their jobs.

But even if they were so irresponsible to keep the faculty unaware…logical minds would assume that good teachers have quality relationships, communication, and interactions with the kids they teach. Are you saying, Bill,  that South Hadley teachers could not connect the dots? Are you saying they could watch Phoebe shoved and knocked about in the halls, shouted at in class, surrounded in the cafeteria and library. hounded, whispered about, her pictures defaced…and none of you ONCE saw a pattern? None of you connected the reports that WERE made and had concern? None of you cared enough to ask questions, share information with other faculty or with students or get involved for this child?

Your students successfully hid a campaign of cruelty in plain sight among the entire South Hadley staff for months?

Really?

How disinterested are you people?

If not disinterested…so many clues for you here.

Or are you saying , Bill, that South Hadley teachers have an “Eyes Wide Shut” approach to their professional obligations to their students? Because, otherwise…every incident…reported or just observed… as they continued to be inflicted on the same particular child…should have been an avalanche of clues…to any teacher that cared.

But YOU say…you were all…clueless. Unaware. Know-nothings.

“Meanness” ( your word) is not just an overt act…it is also the imposition of apathy. Adults, teachers, authority figures …turning a child away time after time, turning their eyes away…making the child cope and carry that cruelty all on her own.

THAT is the burden , Bill, that the apathetic staff and faculty of South Hadley High appears to have put on Phoebe…on a child whose family notified YOU…was vulnerable. If indeed , it is proven that she spent her last day at SHHS…essentially walking her own trail of tears, even seeking out the school nurse…and not one teacher or staff member stepped up to show her any support..or give her any hope for her future…then THAT should be answered for.

If it is shown, Phoebe carried your burden of apathy…you can be sure we will require you to carry the burden of accountability.

Why didn’t THEY know?

The Phoebe Prince tragedy confounds me…from two distinctive perspectives.

I have been a high school teacher…in a school with a reputation as being a “tough” school. Many of our students were from single family homes, living on public assistance. Having an older sibling who “graduated” into a prison facility was not uncommon. So please disavow yourself of any mental picture of this high school as the gathering place for scrubbed adolescents in button down shirts, eager to learn Shakespeare.

But all that being said..it was a far, far, far more civilized place than the picture we’ve been given of South Hadley High.

At “my” school, it was a custom for teachers to stand IN the hallways, right outside their door… while classes were changing. It was NOT required….as I say, it was custom. A teacher learns a lot in the hallways as classes are changing…and there is much “interaction” with the kids that a classroom does not provide. In the hallways, you will see tears…and you can question and comfort; you will see fights… and you can step in.  In the hallways…you will learn who are friends or enemies…outcasts or instigators…you can get a good take on what’s bubbling up.

Hmmm…Do the South Hadley teachers stand in the halls?  I’d like to ask them.

I have been the parent of children who attended public school as well. On the day that my daughter started kindergarten..we excitedly made our way to her classroom door (open campus  setting.)  There we saw a group of bewildered children, some alone…some with irritated parents. The teacher was indeed in the classroom, but she had locked the door and was enjoying a smoke.  When I inquired about it later, I was told her contract did not require her to open the door till the minute school started. In the months to come, she never did one whit more than her contract demanded.  The teachers I knew would stay on their own time if a high school student needed help after school; this kindergarten teacher would leave five-year-olds’ unattended… if it was one minute past her union contract obligation.

While I’m on the subject of spending time with students ON YOUR OWN TIME…let me say…that has innumerable rewards as well. One on one…kids will confide. will gossip, will share their stories and the stories of what is really going on in their world. Moreover, that intimacy builds trust…even among the “toughest” kids…and builds cooperation. If any teachers at South Hadley High had had this kind of relationship with Sean Mulveyhill or any of the others…they might have called them in and said..”Make this STOP. C’mon, you’re a leader, a captain. I’m watching you. I’m counting on you. Stop by tomorrow and the next day…I want to know how YOU are making this stop.”

But of course, that means TEACHER cannot be the first out the door.  TEACHER has to engage, listen, and give freely of his or her free time.  How “engaged” are the faculty at South Hadley High?  You know, the place where books are shoved from students arms, girls are slammed into lockers, new students are threatened and pursued into restrooms. vulgarities shouted in the library…bullies barge into class-in-session.

And no one KNOWS anything…unless a report is made?

Teachers are still professionals, aren’t they…not watch-the-clock fast food clerks?  Why didn’t they know? How COULD all this have happened in their professional workplace and they missed it? To me, this is analogous to a patient bleeding to death in a busy hospital corridor…and staff saying”Huh? Well no one TOLD me!”

Do they realize their plea of ignorance is a serious indictment of their professionalism?

WE KNOW…THEY SHOULD HAVE KNOWN.

And now, they should be held accountable.

Robin Redux

That robin is back again this Spring…building her nest in the low bush outside my window.  She may not remember…but I do…that Spring some years ago when we went down this road together before. She was more than herself to me that year…that nest more than her own: she was a symbol of my optimism, the manifestation of my belief I could pray or will things to be so.  Anyway, we were partners in productive joy that year…both…anticipating….expecting…on the cusp of Dreams.  I should remind her that it ended badly for both of us..blue shells scattered on the ground…hearts broken.  But she’s back and darn busy out there..seemingly no time or interest to listen.

The window is in a part of the house I can avoid. Part of me wants to do just that. I don’t want to take her on again. I don’t want to take ME on again. I want to quote Teasdale to her…the mantra that came to signify that April to me…

“It was a Spring that never came….but we have lived enough to know

That WHAT WE NEVER HAVE…remains.

It is the things we HAVE…that go.”

Hey, Robin!  Yeah, you!

She’s too busy…not listening…or ignoring me.

I want to tell her what I’ve learned in the years since our last team effort.

I’ve learned  that we can spend so much time tending to our Dreams…to every green shoot and beginning bud…that Real Days get lost in the process. Real Days that have a beauty, purpose, joy…just in and of their average self. I’ve learned Dreams can become so tangled and overgrown that we can no longer see the real people we love whom they obscure.  I’ve learned that decaying old dreams can become Fears.   Those fears can grow and  thicken and mat until no new sunlight can get in.

And I’ve learned disposing of dead, old dreams is a arduous and  painful effort.

I know all that now. I’d like to tell her all that if she would take a minute off from hauling twigs into that bush.

That bush is too low.

I  may be wiser  these years later but evidently she is not. She’s learned nothing.

Listen here…I tap my advice on the window…once you uproot, and burn, and clear out the Old Dreams…everything looks so wide open and fresh. Suddenly you might see new opportunities…like high up in those treetops. You start to see each day as a DAY…to be filled in a myriad of satisfying ways. You see Love over there where it already exists. You find Joy in the brief moment. And as the poet says, you embrace…”Splendor in the grass; glory in the flower.”

Give it up already. I don’t want to go through this with you again. Take your low-hanging, perilous nest elsewhere.

But my Robin resists my advice. Persists in her endeavor.Twig after twig, intent on her effort, invested in her new dream.

Maybe she’s replying in her own way.  A gentle rebuke.

Don’t stop dreaming altogether.

Keep working.

Keep “building.”

Have faith.

With a sigh, I take my teacup and my protective heart to another room.

We’ll see….

One….Alone and Lost

“Dim trotting figures that seldom will attack

Two with a light who match their steps and sing:

To one… alone and lost…another thing.”

We learned more yesterday about the “dim trotting figures” at South Hadley High …the alleged Bully Posse…and their organized conspiracy of relentless cruelty toward Phoebe Prince.

http://media2.wwlp.com/storydocuments/southhadleyteenindictments.PDF

Flannery Mullins is alleged to be the Big He-Girl…the “Muscle”, laying plans to find the opportunity to do physical harm to Phoebe, trolling school bathrooms and hallways for assualtive opportunities.

Velazquez, the archetypal Wannabee (displaying the high moral fiber her Mother tells us she instilled at home.)…prefers loud, obscenity labeled verbal assaults in support of her friend.  As further evidence of her gentle rearing, she describes this harassment  to authorities as but a manifestation true friendship for Mullins….whose pain causes her pain.  As for any such feeling for Phoebe…well, let’s not go overboard with empathy..even post mortem:

“Another student told police that after Prince’s suicide, Velazquez said she “wasn’t the only person that caused Phoebe’s death and that she didn’t care that she was dead.”

And Longe must have been a legend in the Library…where she was permitted to shout her abuse both up close and from tables away…unrestrained by any supervision, of course. FYI, to you taxpayers funding the place, that South Hadley High is providing quite the atmosphere of civility and academic learning,wouldn’t you say.  (Remember when we feared whispering behind the stacks?)

Rest of accused Bully Posse lays low….

http://www.bostonherald.com/news/regional/view.bg?articleid=1245692