Should victims be made to bear their bully’s burden?
As those of you who follow me on Facebook already know, our daughter was injured and missed a week of school as a result of being struck from behind by a classmate while standing in line.
Without going into the details nor attempting to villainize the other child as both girls are just 7 years old, suffice to say that this is not the first incident involving this one student. Sadly our child as well as other classmates have been on the receiving end of either a hit or a threat of being hit in the past. In fact the week before the incident, the classmate threatened to ruin the dresses of four girls (including our daughter’s) on picture day. When my daughter reported this to the teacher, the girl denied it. However, and I applaud the teacher for her follow through, she asked the other three girls who had been targeted what had happened. They all confirmed that the classmate did indeed make the threat to ruin their dresses. The teacher did take what we believed at the time was the appropriate action to address the issue. We had hoped that it would end there.
Sadly it didn’t.
The Importance of Documenting
One of the things I learned in preparing for my interviews with leading experts on the subject of bullying is that you must meticulously document every incident as well as report it so as to create an audit trail.
Over the past couple of years we have done this. We have also saved the copies of the responses we received from the other child’s mother to our e-mails expressing concerns of what was happening at school. One reply that stands out in particular was the mother’s acknowledgement that her daughter has a problem with her temper and is somewhat spoiled. It should also be noted that we sent e-mails to the school, as well as called them on more than one occasion regarding the situation.
Based on this and the severity of the injury resulting from the blow, we decided to file a complaint with police. Much to their credit the officers with whom we talked took the matter seriously and an officer specializing in school situations has since intervened.
Given that our daughter has never been in trouble or has been disciplined at school – she has consistently received glowing comments about her academic ability and positive attitude, we were surprised to receive the following note from her teacher a mere two-days after her return to classes:
“(The classmate who hit our daughter) has been doing her best to avoid Savannah at all times, but Savannah is not reciprocating. She often stands by the classmate in line or chases her in the gym.
It would be best if Savannah also put an effort into avoiding the classmate.”
As previously indicated, we were of course surprised to receive the note as there had been no meaningful communication from the school since the incident occurred.
I immediately called the teacher for further clarification, and asked her if Savannah was being mean to the other girl or had been taunting her or had otherwise done something wrong. The teacher assured us that Savannah did not do anything wrong and that she is a sweet girl who does not have a mean bone in her.
The teacher went on to say that they just want to make certain that another situation is avoided in the future.
When I got off of the phone with the teacher both Jennifer and I talked to Savannah and we discovered that in addition to the note, she was called from class so that the principal could talk with her. The principle, without consulting us on what they planned to do, asked Savannah to stay away from the other girl. While we do not believe that it was the intent of the principal to make Savannah feel that she had done something wrong, she nonetheless felt that she had.
What is particularly troubling about the school’s plan of action is that is has confused Savannah in that by following the principal’s direction she may be put into the position of having to disobey other rules. For example, you are not allowed to move ahead or back when you are standing in line in the hallway. What happens if the other student ends up beside Savannah. If Savannah moves while in line to get away from the other student she can get into trouble with the teacher. However, if she stays put she is going against what she was told by the principal. Remember, we are dealing with a 7 year old not an adult.
After a great deal of discussion and what can be considered a reasonable night’s sleep for parents with 4 children under the age of 7, I sent in the following note to both the teacher and the principal:
Thank you for taking the time to talk with me by telephone yesterday.
As we had discussed, and despite what has happened to her, Savannah is a gentle, sweet and forgiving child. Therefore it goes against her nature to purposely ignore another person.
While Jennifer and I believe that we understand the intent of your note, we take issue with the manner in which this course of action was introduced. Specifically, the principal’s decision to pull her from class to tell her to stay away from the other student! This made Savannah feel that she had done something wrong – which she did not. After all she is the one who, without warning and provocation, was injured.
Over the next few days we will research the effectiveness of putting a demand such as the one being placed on Savannah in terms of preventing future injury as well as the impact on academic experience.
In the interim, we have instructed Savannah as follows:
- Given what has happened in the past, she should be more aware or mindful of the other student and,
- That she is not being mean by not engaging or responding to the other student
The above being said, Savannah will not be reduced to walking on egg shells or be forced to mute what has been an otherwise enjoyable experience at school.
For example, if the other student approaches Savannah while she is talking with her classmates, Savannah will not flee from the scene. Conversely, Savannah will not avoid interacting with other classmates just because the other student may have been in line before her. In situations such as these we have told Savannah that she should, in a polite but firm voice, remind the other student that they should not be talking and ask her to leave. If the other student does not respond, we have told Savannah to immediately see the supervising teacher or adult.
We look forward to following up with you once we have completed our research.
Jon and Jennifer
In the end our concern is that action was taken without our being consulted and, it appears that Savannah is being made to feel responsible for what had happened. Despite the promise of a meeting we have yet to receive a call from the school’s principal to discuss the situation. Nor have the other child’s parents given us the courtesy of an apology for what had happened. I can assure you that had the roles been reversed Jennifer and I would have called the injured child’s parents to see how she was and apologize. Furthermore, we would have had Savannah write a get well note to the classmate.
Instead, the only contact we received from the parents was in the form of a police officer visiting us at home and telling us that they had received a call complaining that we had been harassing them by way of our postings about the incident on our personal Facebook pages. We of course did not mention names and after a few brief and concise words with the officer I initiated a meeting with his superior at the station. The matter was immediately dropped.
So here is the question . . . are our schools properly equipped to deal with bullying? Do the schools to a certain extent make the victim responsible for bearing the bully’s burden in that they have to modify their behavior, even in those circumstances where they have done nothing wrong?