Dusting Off the Student Handbook


Bullying! It is everywhere. It wears many different faces and is found in a variety of places. No matter how it is expressed, no matter how subtle, it is present, it hurts and it is ...

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Bullying! It is everywhere. It wears many different faces and is found in a variety of places. No matter how it is expressed, no matter how subtle, it is present, it hurts and it is wrong.

Traditionally, when most of us hear the word bullying, we think of the playground bully from our school days. He was the big kid who would physically threaten and assault in the shadows and cracks of life, so no one could see. Victims more often than not left the encounter frightened and surely never wanted to tell an authority figure. That fear only fueled the bully's power. What did we really know at ten or twelve years of age?

In addition to the playground bully, as we grew older, we met adults who bullied us from the classroom, the ball field and even the work place. These were people who used their power and position in a negative, demeaning way. When victimized, part of the pain was that you felt trapped, with nowhere to turn. That powerless feeling only further fueled and sustained those adult bullies, so they continued to victimize others.

In many social circles, people minimize bullying by calling it "teasing." Unfortunately, the teasing of yesteryear is not the teasing of today. Too many young people that I listen to, talk about serious harassment, threats and even physical intimidation.

A growing number of students who speak of these concerns talk about how they have reported them to appropriate school staff and feel their concerns have fallen on deaf ears because nothing changes. The bully's power and intimidation grows stronger.

The social landscape of our schools has changed drastically in the last twenty years. Many schools have security officers patrolling their campuses and monitoring school halls. Some other schools have installed metal detectors.

Who would have ever thought that students would bring guns, knives and explosives to school with the intent to kill and destroy human life?

With horrific memories of the Columbine Massacre still fresh in many of our minds, we are numbed by the high school tragedy in Bailey, Colorado, where a gunman killed a student and committed suicide during a high school stand off.

Our schools are supposed to be safe places where all students can grow and develop their untapped potential. They should not be wastelands of human potential.

As parents and educators, we need to work hard to create a climate that is safe, that supports and reinforces positive values. We can no longer endorse double standards, special interest groups or benign indifference. Those issues infect and really disable a school community.

JR is a high school athlete in a local South Shore high school. He is big for his age and probably by many people's standards, a little rough around the edges. However, he has a big heart and is genuinely concerned for others.

As a little boy growing up, he was raised to do the right thing: to be truthful, honest, respectful and to protect the weak. JR comes from an intact family. There is a lot of communication in his home. It is not uncommon, as a family, for them to talk about many of the social ills in our society.

In middle school, JR noticed some troubling issues emerging. He saw that athletes were the favored class and that the kids who looked different and acted different were picked on by their peers, especially the power brokers and even some teachers.

JR started to speak out in defense of some of his classmates but found he was getting into trouble. He got in trouble not for defending the "picked on," but rather for how he went about it.

In high school, when he was a junior, he saw a senior teammate brutally pick on a defenseless sophomore. JR stood up, stepped out and told his senior teammate to back off. The senior did not appreciate being challenged by a fellow teammate and an underclassman in front of other students. He challenged JR to meet him outside behind the high school after class to settle it. JR said yes.

The last school bell rang. The two athletes met on the outer parameter of the school grounds. The senior, who was much bigger than JR, started with a string of crude expletives that were aimed at demeaning JR. JR returned by calling him a bully. The verbal confrontation escalated very quickly. The senior took a swing at JR and missed. JR swung back and landed a punch right in the face, by the senior's nose and it started to bleed.

The fight ended. JR said nothing. He went home, didn't say a word to his family and thought it was finished.

The next morning he went to school and during first period, he was summoned to the assistant principal's office. He was suspended for starting a fight on school grounds.

Needless to say, JR protested. He said he did not start the fight, but was merely defending himself after being called out by the senior. He also indicated that it was after school and not on school property. The assistant principal said it was technically on school property.

JR left the assistant principal's office very frustrated. He felt that only one side of the story was told and that he never had a chance to tell his story. He went home. He served his suspension. His parents were troubled because they never received a phone call or explanation, merely a form suspension letter indicating the offense and length of time out of school.

His parents elected not to press the issue at their son's insistence. However, on the qt, JR's Dad found out that JR had a reputation for being a little rough around the edges, because he would speak up and challenge things that he thought were wrong and unfair. The senior, on the other hand, was supposedly a respected athlete and leader, at least to the people in power. On campus, a number of his peers felt he was two faced and a bully.

JR's story is all too common. It is hard and complicated work when students have any kind of confrontation. However, it is imperative that we, as adults, always act fairly and justly in addressing these rather complicated human concerns.

Almost every high school campus has a code of conduct contained within their student handbook. That handbook not only outlines the expected behavior while on campus and at school functions, it also outlines the consequences for student non-compliance.

Unfortunately, on many high school campuses that have handbooks, they only collect dust. Some have not been updated in years, if used at all. Those who use them, unfortunately use them selectively, rather than holding the whole student body accountable. Selective enforcement only fuels the feeling of injustice and is not teaching students any positive life lessons!