Jessica Barba, the 15-year-old Longwood High School student who was suspended for the anti-bullying video she created and posted online, returned to school on May 24—with an apology and a promise that the suspension would be wiped off of her transcript.
The six-minute video, written and shot by Barba for a persuasive speech assignment, features fictitious 12-year-old Hailey Bennett, played by Barba, who becomes depressed after being repeatedly bullied at school and on Facebook. Alone and despondent after her best friend moves away, Barba’s character becomes depressed, withdraws from an unkind world and an abusive father and ultimately commits suicide.
Unaware that Barba’s character was fabricated, an alarmed parent called the school after viewing her You Tube video and fictitious Facebook page. The school principal subsequently suspended Barba for five days, claiming that the video caused a disturbance in the school.
"I was asked to go to the office and I thought they were going to pat me on the back for the job I did on the video. Instead, the principal told me I would be suspended for five days because my video disrupted the school," Barba lamented.
Barba said that she tried to explain her work to school officials but they would not listen. She said there were clear warnings on the Facebook page and video that her project involved a fictional character "I tried explaining it so much ... they had the printouts of the page but none of the printouts that they had were the ones where I specify that it was a fake page," Barba said.
"I just created the video in order to raise awareness of the major issue that's bullying. I couldn't even believe that I was getting in trouble for something that I had worked so hard on, and the only intent of it was good," Barba said.
Barba’s father, Michael, said he was very proud of what she had done. "This is a great project. There are thousands of people that love it, and it can be fixed. This can be fixed, simple," he said.
Barba said that while her suspension was unpleasant, her anti-bullying message reached a lot more people because of it.
Middle Island School District offered no comment about Barba’s reinstatement, citing privacy laws.
According to Bullying Statistics, about one in four kids in the U.S. are bullied on a regular basis; and teens in sixth through tenth grade are the most likely to be involved in activities related to bullying. About thirty percent of students in the United States are implicated in bullying on a regular basis either as a victim, bully or both.
According to the site, approximately 77 percent of all students experience verbal bullying in the form of spreading rumors or yelling obscenities or other derogatory terms based on race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc.
As social networking and online social interaction becomes increasingly popular, cyberbullying has become alarmingly prevalent between teens. About 80 percent of all high school students have been bullied online. These growing numbers are being attributed to youth violence, including both homicide and suicide.
According to Barba’s video, eight percent of all teens bullied attempt suicide and suicide is the leading cause of death in children 14 and under.
In addition to school administrators taking an active role in addressing these disturbing statistics, teens can also work to prevent bullying. Since most bullies attack only those they consider weaker than themselves, by banding together teens can reduce the number of depressed and suicidal adolescents, along with those who fear for their life while attending school—something Barba’s controversial work was, ultimately, very instrumental in facilitating.
SOURCES: NYDailyNews.com, The Huffington Post, msnbc.com