Whatever happened to school bullying?

For reasons that aren’t entirely clear — other than our short attention span on these sorts of things — we don’t hear as much about school bullying as we did a few years ago, and it’s not because kids have changed.

The Park Rapids Enterprise proves that with its story today about a seventh-grader who was bullied right to near suicide in Nevis, Minn.

“I just wanted to end everything because the bullying got so bad,” Hailey Becker tells the paper about the time she tied a string around her neck and tried to choke herself to death on the school bus.

“The other kids were trying to talk me out of it. Then my brother (age 11) came back to convince me not to do it,” she said.

It happened two days before Thanksgiving and the school didn’t contact the family for two days after the incident was filed. The bus driver had classified it only as harassment.

“When an event takes place you have three days to conduct an investigation so they went through that, determined that there was not necessarily bullying but there was harassment by the other individuals,” superintendent Gregg Parks said. “Bullying is something that’s repeated over time, it’s not something that happens once.”

The girl’s mother isn’t buying it.

“I have gone into the school every year since Hailey started in kindergarten to talk to the principal and others about her being bullied,” Kara Becker said. “She’s been dealing with it nonstop.”

A zero-tolerance policy? Hardly, she says.

“It may get better for a week or two and then it’s back to the same old thing,” she said. “I feel like Nevis School is really great at sweeping it under the rug.”

Meanwhile, over in Park Rapids, Jason and Hanna Markert have had enough. They’ve pulled their three daughters of school and are schooling them at home, the Enterprise says.

“A faculty member assaulted one of my children, leaving marks on her,” said Hannah. “A faculty member called my child a liar and a hazard to other children. A faculty member offered to find her another school so (he or she) does not have to deal with myself, my husband or my child anymore.”

Things got tougher in high school, [daughter Kinsey] said. On the last day of her freshman year, another student threatened on Snapchat to beat her up if she didn’t quit talking to a certain friend, and warned, “if you’re lucky, you’ll live.”

The family got a harassment restraining order (HRO) against the other girl — but “the school did absolutely nothing to keep the two separated,” Hanna said.

Meanwhile, Kinsey’s grades plunged. Previously an A and B student, she started failing classes.

Hanna said school administrators were not open to helping Kinsey make up the credits.

“We ended up pulling her so she could graduate,” said Hanna. They signed up their daughter for Minnesota Connections Academy, an online homeschooling curriculum based in St. Paul.

One daughter, a fourth grader, held out but finally gave up on school when another student threatened to kill the family dog and burn their house down.

Other students say they saw an attack on one of the daughters, but the school staff concluded she was lying about the incident, the Enterprise said.

  • Bullying, harassment, inappropriate conduct of any kind – none of it ever just “gets better” on its own, and it is up to school officials to maintain an updated policy, train all staff including bus drivers, and – this seems to be the hard part – follow up and have actionable results. The truth is that it’s a hassle to deal with these incidents because it takes time and effort to investigate, it’s uncomfortable to confront parents of bullies, difficult to take staff away from their jobs to interview them about the students involved, and so on. Sitting on it and hoping it’ll blow over is easier.

  • BReynolds33

    Breaking news: school administrators are people who care more about their little fiefdoms than about their perceived subjects. They don’t think they are responsible to anyone. The school boards are barely more than rubber stamps and yes men. The politicians rarely do anything to take action because then they are seen as anti-education, which is only slightly less evil than being anti-cop or anti-military.

    There is a reason why we delight when we see stories about teachers (and administrators) who care. Because far too many of them simply don’t.

  • joetron2030

    I know this story all too well. Both of my kids have been the victims of bullying. We’ve had mixed results when taking it up with school staff.

    Kids are very good at parroting the “party line” when it comes to the schools’ messages about bullying. But rarely do they actually take it to heart. And, frequently in my experience, the parents of the bullies are no better. Plenty of “kids being kids” shoulder shrugging and looking the other way when my wife has reached out to a parent.

    • Jack

      I was bullied as an elementary student. That may be why I’m overly nice to everyone I meet.

    • RBHolb

      “And, frequently in my experience, the parents of the bullies are no better.”

      I wonder how many of those parents were themselves bullies? “Heck, we did stuff like that all the time. It was just all good fun.”

  • Israel C. Kalman

    There is another possibility no one is considering. The reader must realize that our nation has been combatting bullying intensively for twenty years, during which thousands of research studies have been conducted, and the problem continues unabated. But the research shows that the “gold standard” programs barely make a dent in the bullying problem, and the policies schools are required to use don’t work well and often make the problem worse. So how are schools supposed to get rid of bullying when the experts don’t know how to do it and the mandated policies don’t work?
    To look at this in greater depth, read my article in The Federalist: https://thefederalist.com/2019/01/21/school-anti-bullying-programs-make-bullying-worse/

    • Ickster

      You should really be clear that with that link you’re driving traffic to an article under your own byline. Failing to do so makes this look like comment spam and reduces your credibility. (Not debating the merits of the linked article, just the style of your post here.)

      • Israel C. Kalman

        Thanks for the advice. I just edited it.

  • Frank

    Maybe it should start with the teachers. Far too many of them bully students. Shaming and out downs in front of one’s peers is bullying, and professional teachers should not resort to it.

  • AL287

    In the great long ago, the parents of bullies were confronted by the victims’ parents and that sometimes but not always put a stop to it.

    When children call each other fat, pansy, stupid or any number of demeaning and derogatory terms and one of my students in the grade I am teaching for the day brings it to my attention, I bring the perpetrator and the victim together and have a little chat and I remind them that name calling is bullying, pure and simple.

    Gossip is the absolute worst form of bullying and the hardest to pin down.

    The worst thing a teacher or an administrator can do is dismiss a victim’s accusation. Failing to follow through with serious and meaningful consequences will kill an anti-bullying policy and compound the problem.

    Unfortunately, in the current social arena, far too many underage children are online unsupervised, their parents totally clueless about what their children are consuming from the internet and social media.

    The words “bully” and “bullying” have lost their “punch.” It’s time to label bullying for what it is—verbal/mental assault and in too many cases physical battery and assault.