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out; parents went to jail or were successfully sued for allowing minors to drink at their homes; our cultural free pass was revoked.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.

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.

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

Skeletons, Secrets, and Such…

We’re going to learn a lot about our society’s current definition of accountability when the Phoebe Prince case goes to trial. Across the Internet, whispers lead one to believe a Defense is already taking place.  Phoebe  (whisper, whisper) WAS this…or WASN’T that….they hint of “dirt” to come.

What can this mean? Are we to believe that there are certain mistakes a victim may make that automatically render the RELENTLESS BULLYING of them…acceptable? Or there are certain weaknesses a victim may possess, that shift all responsibility from her tormentors squarely onto her?

Really?

In other words…the argument is that certain victims “are asking for it.” And whatever befalls them, the intensity of the harassment, the depths of the cruelty, the total annihilation of their sense of safety…no longer is the responsibility of the Bullies dishing this out.  No, it’s another burden for the Victim to carry…another indication that the Tormentors are the true judges of the Victim’s worthiness.

Nobody cares what we do to “an Irish slut.”

Or this type of human, or..THAT.

The “In CROWD” get to determine the”Out Crowd.”  And then, I suppose get to say…on  them, it’s Open Season.

If skeletons and secrets or certain “weaknesses”  can shift ALL the responsibility from the alleged Bully Posse that pursued Phoebe…onto the memory of that dead child…well, that will show how little we care about the safety, soul, and psyche of the rest of our vulnerable children in this society.  If these alleged Bullies are not held accountable…let’s demand the jury issue a list of acceptable targets. Just so we all know where we stand.

Certainly that would even further simply life for the Eyes Wide Shut administration of Gus Sayer…and his “WHO-ME-I -JUST-WORK-HERE” Faculty.:

“Oh no, Mrs. Prince, see right here under section 15, item 12…your daughter Phoebe is defined as having ” unprotected” status here at South Hadley High by virtue of THIS and THIS. . See. we’ve already flagged her case as “DO NOT INTERVENE.”

“Sorry.  No help. Hands tied.”

I’m just imagining here…but sort of sounds like the mighty Gus Sayer we’ve come to know, doesn’t it?

Considering the Prince family  tragedy, I would never presume to say what legal measures the  family should or should not undertake. They’ve lost a daughter; a civil suit would be more pain, more outrage, more of the same.  Membership in the alleged Bully Posse has risen as the attorneys, and school officials begin to use their daughter Phoebe as a defensive shield. Skeletons, secrets, oh you know…the family would have to bear this all.

The Princes and their attorney know this too.

But if they feel they can undertake the rigors of a civil trial, I hope they know that many of us would see this…. not just as another personal sacrifice…but a true Public Service. The world has become engaged in their Phoebe’s tragedy. This becomes the penultimate moment for all of us to look within and without, to draw boundaries, and demand accountability. We need to know why some of our children feel an entitlement to hurt at will. Why cruelty has become a High School spectator sport?  Why school officials are so numb, naive, or apathetic…that they knowingly stay uninvolved?

We need to demand an end to excuse making. Show our disgust at any efforts to say ANY person can be considered to have “unprotected status”…  that thereby gives any Bully a free pass to wage a relentless, multi-faceted  hate campaign.

I would say to the Prince Family: Phoebe is beyond their reach now.  Only revulsion will greet any attempt to legally victimize her in a courtroom in the way she endured FOR MONTHS in the classroom.  And, no skeleton, secret or such can shift the responsibilities here from the ACTIONS of the alleged Bully Posse and the INACTION of those supposedly supervising South Hadley High.

And certainly, no skeletons, secrets or such can cause the great majority of us outraged by Bullying to  ever desert your daughter now…or you.