Before I tell my story of what our family experienced last year I'd like to go back 35 years for when I was a child. Life was different in 1978. Our parents let us outside for the day without supervision. There were no scheduled play dates or all day summer camps. I lived in a neighborhood where there were at least 15 kids and we played all day until our parents called us in for meals. I can remember sledding in the winter, kick-ball in the summer and countless hours of imaginary play. For the most part, we all got along but there were those days where conflict arose. What I DON'T remember is; running to my mother every time I had an issue with another kid. We worked it out on our own and moved on. As I grew older, I remember two specific days where I encountered a Bully. I don't remember their names and I barely recall what they said. However, I do remember standing up for myself and the fact that those two girls never bothered me again. This gave me a tremendous sense of pride. I stood up for myself and won! From that moment, I knew that I could handle anything.
Now lets fast forward to 2014 where the word "Bully" is a buzz word and every school is "cracking down on Bullies". There are "Anti-Bullying" policies and "Bully Prevention" programs. The public school in my town has been quoted as saying we have "a zero tolerance for bullies." However, I've learned this year that their tolerance for such behavior is much higher than they are leading us to believe. In my town, things have got better for the Bully. These kids now have the upper hand because they have learned how to work the system. I can't tell you how many mothers I have talked to that all describe a similar situation:
On the playground, a Bully pushed my child to the ground. My child stood up and pushed them back. The Bully became upset and ran to the teacher and my child got in trouble.
I have heard the same story time and time again from other parents. There are so many things wrong with that statement. First of all, where was the supervision? If a school is going to have an "Anti-Bullying" policy then why aren't they watching their students? If they are not going to properly supervise their students then I firmly believe they should let the children work it out on their own. In this particular situation, the Bully became empowered and the child that stood up for himself became a victim.
I have a son who is my pride and joy. He is outgoing, smart and very funny. These traits he got from his father. He is also highly sensitive and therefore becomes very upset when someone is mean to him. When he first began public school he instinctively stood up to the Bullies; if someone pushed him, he pushed back and I remember thinking that I would never have to worry about him. Then, he began getting in trouble and the teachers started telling him that everything his parents were teaching him was WRONG. They told him NOT to hit back and NOT to use unkind words when a Bully started antagonizing him. They advised him to talk to an adult instead. However, every time he did go to a teacher they told him to ignore it, to walk away and move on. By 2nd Grade my confident young boy became so confused and distraught that he actually started showing physical signs of anxiety. He began having facial tics. A Tic is an uncontrollable spasm in the face, such as blinking of the eyes, flaring the nostrils and opening the mouth. One of the most common contributing factors to Tics is stress and anxiety.
By 3rd Grade, his Tics became noticeable to other children and this is where my story begins. In every school, there are different kinds of Bullies. There are the Bullies who are aggressive. They are the ones that will openly make fun of another child, they push, they hit, and they do anything to make themselves feel empowered. Often, these aggressive Bullies are well known in school. Every parent has a story about them.
Then there is the Silent-Bully. These are the kids who seem to fly under the radar because they are extremely well behaved in front of the teachers. These children will smile at the teacher one minute while they are quietly insulting a classmate the next minute. This past year, my son had a problem with both of these types of Bullies. The first child, the Aggressive-Bully, had been bothering my son and many other children for quite some time. In fact, by October of 2013, I had been documenting his behavior towards my son and had compiled a list of incidents that were 3 pages long. The second child, the Silent-Bully, we have had problems with since Pre-School. I tried to reach out to his mother on several occasions but each time she refused to believe that her son could do anything wrong and she frequently blamed my son for any conflict that came between them.
When my child approached me and told me about these two boys, my first reaction was to tell him to stand up for himself. To which my son replied, "I can't. If I do, then I will get in trouble!" I knew he was right. From our experiences with the public school these past 4 years and the stories I've heard from other parents, I knew that we had to conquer this issue a different way. I started to write a letter to the principal but I didn't send it right away because I was concerned about the repercussions of bringing this all to light. The mother of the Silent-Bully is a prominent figure in my town. However, the day after I finished this letter my son came home and told me that the Silent-Bully was making fun of his Tics. I knew, then, that I couldn't let this go on. I sent the letter that evening to the principal, outlining with dates, the problems that my son was having with these 2 boys. I requested that consequences be given to the Aggressive-Bully for frequently assaulting my child. As for the Silent-Bully, I simply asked that his mother be notified and that a letter of apology addressed to my son be written promptly.
The next day, the school contacted me and said that they would do an "investigation" into the matter. However, within a week, I learned that my concerns about calling attention to the Silent-Bully and his mother were correct for she immediately responded by bad-mouthing me (and my child) all around town and the principal still hadn't taken any action. I now felt like I was the one being Bullied. So, I foolishly tried to reach out to this woman again and confront her about the slanderous accusations she was saying about me and my family. When I did, she accused me of "harassing" her. Since that day, whenever I walk by her I am accosted by snickers and dirty looks from her and her children. If only she spent her energy on being a good role model to her children instead of bad-mouthing me, maybe we wouldn't be in this situation in the first place, but I digress.
I waited weeks for that letter of apology and for the school to notify me regarding the action they were planning to take. I grew impatient and requested a meeting with the Superintendent. Two days before this meeting took place; the Principal called my child into his office and made him sign a form stating that HE must stay away from the boys who are bullying him! I was never notified of this meeting, before or after it took place. The only reason I found out was because my child was deeply disturbed and upset the next morning. He didn't want to go to school. He was having trouble breathing and his Tics were out of control. When I inquired as to what was bothering him, I was completely appalled! He didn't understand why HE was in trouble and neither did I. I immediately called the principal and demanded answers. The Principal's only reply was that the Silent-Bully's mother had complaints too and he thought it would be better if they just "Stayed-Away" from each other. I didn't send my son to school that day, instead, we spent the day at the pediatrician's office where I was told that he experienced an anxiety attack.
I wrote a letter to the Superintendent, complaining about the Principal. In this letter, I informed her that I was intending to bring a lawyer to our meeting that week. It was on this day that I learned for the first time that when you use the word "lawyer" in a sentence it changes everything. The Superintendent's office pulled out all the stops to try and cancel our meeting. First they said they "could only meet with me if my husband attended the meeting." Then, when my husband changed his schedule to accommodate them they tried to cancel again stating that "someone from their party was sick." I told them that if they didn't meet with me that I would take legal action. So, they met with me, but it only lasted 5 minutes because they pretended to not know that I was bringing legal council. However, before we left, my lawyer made it very clear that having my child sign a "Stay-Away" plan without my consent was a federal violation of his civil rights. (By the way, I demanded a copy of this form. On it, there is a line for the Principal's signature, the school counselor's signature and my 9 year olds signature. On that document there is NOT one place for a parent's signature! I didn't think it was legal for a 9 year old to sign a document.)
A month later, when their lawyer called my lawyer they labeled the incident as "Mutual Bullying" and said that the "Stay-Away" plan was put in place to assure the safety of all the children involved. During this time, the Principal of my child's school also tried to ruin my creditability by telling his lawyer that I was walking around the playground "yelling at any kid that bothered my son." That is an outrageous lie and I am appalled that they would stoop so low in order to get out of a lawsuit.
It is now a year later and my son now attends a private school. Since this incident he has undergone therapy and his Tics are almost gone. I still believe that we should teach our children how to stand up to Bullies but I also believe in teaching them empathy so they understand that it's not their fault. I know for a fact that one of the Bullies he had a problem with comes from a difficult family situation. I have to say, if there is a silver lining to all of this it's that my son and I have become closer. He knows I have his back and he talks to me about everything!
Copyright 2014 by Michelle Fiore