Thursday, April 2, 2009

NY: Bullying Allegedly Takes Another Victim

NOTE: We just came across this article from April 2008. Another young life lost...

Schools Must Communicate With Parents, Kids to Prevent Bullying, Experts Say

Despite the old adage about sticks and stones, the mother of New York City middle school student Maria Herrera told a local newspaper that words really did hurt her daughter, who apparently committed suicide by hanging herself last week.

Herrera was the latest tragic victim of bullying, according to her mother, who told The New York Post that she found the 12-year-old hanging dead in a closet from a cloth belt on April 7.

Mercedes Herrera told the The Post that students constantly teased her daughter and even went as far as cutting her hair.

"She would come home crying," Herrera told the Post, adding that she complained "more than 20 times" to administrators at the school, to no avail.

While many children deal with bullying — from name-calling to teasing and sometimes even physical violence — not all of them cope well when they are consistently the butt of the joke. was unable to reach Herrera, and Public School 72, where the deceased student was enrolled in sixth grade, declined to comment and deferred questions to the New York City Department of Education.

n a statement from the DOE, the stringent rules for reporting bullying with the school system were reiterated, and the department said they have no evidence that the alleged bullying of Herrera was ever reported, contrary to her mother's claims.

"This situation is a tragedy, but there is no record that this student had been a victim of persistent bullying or that her parents had complained about persistent bullying at the school," according to the statement. "The Department of Education does not tolerate bullying or harassment in any form."

Violence Moves from Hallways to the Internet
Herrera's death follows in the wake of several other bullying-related incidents, most notably the 2006 suicide of 13-year-old Megan Meier, who hanged herself after she was bullied over the popular networking site

And just last week, a video depicting eight teens as they beat another unconscious became a viral video sensation.

With bullying increasingly making a move from the school's hallways to student's Web pages and e-mail inboxes, many schools are struggling to cope with a problem that never seems to go away.

"Just when we think something is handled, something new comes out," said Jan Harp Domene, the national president of The Parent Teacher Association. "Now we see violence in all different forms."

School employees should do everything they can to keep an eye on bullying, Harp Domene said, but parents should take control of the situation and make sure they communicate not only with the school but their children, too.

"Parents need to talk to their child's teachers, but they still have to talk to their kid," said Harp Domene. "A lot of times parents will think talking to the teacher is enough, but the teacher is there to monitor 30 or 35 kids and you can't expect them to see everything."

Both parents and teachers should make sure children know it's OK to tell someone if they are getting bullied, a challenge to the stigma that tattle-tailing is "bad," she said.

"A lot of the time children who are bullied don't want to talk about it because they don't want that person to come back at them, they need reassurance by teachers and school administrators.

"They need to tell children that it's OK to tell, especially when it's your safety or your health. It's also OK to tell if you see it happening to another student."

Anti-Bullying Legislation
School districts nationwide have taken steps to enforce anti-bullying rules, and in Florida, a particularly tragic incident spurred legislation that would mandate school's instate bullying rules and protocol.

A bill working its way through the state legislature was created in the name of Jeffrey Johnston, a Florida ninth grader who committed suicide after years of being bullied online.

Florida State Rep. Nick Thompson is currently backing the Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up For All Students Act, an anti-bullying law that he hopes will pass later this week.

"It requires that the [Florida] Department of Education will draft a model anti-bullying policy," Thompson told "Then all 67 county school districts must adopt their own policy that conforms."

The law will also require schools to adhere to reporting protocols when bullying is suspected. It would deprive schools of state funding for other safety measures — such as security and counseling — if they fail to do so, said Thompson.

The Anatomy of a Bully
While the victims of these most tragic examples of schoolyard bullying may seem fairly average at first glance, child and adolescent psychiatrist Alvin Rosenfeld told that there's a pattern to which gets picked on the most.

"The kids who are more passive or tend to feel more inadequate are bullied more," said Rosenfeld, who is based in Connecticut. "Also, kids who feel more nerdy."

And what about the bully?

Rosenfeld says it's true: Bullies are often the most disturbed of all.

"It's a great feeling to be powerful when you're little," said Rosenfeld. "And the littler you feel, the more fun it is to make yourself feel better.

"The kids who bully tend to be the more emotionally disturbed. Why else would you want to make someone feel inferior or lousy?"

Rosenfeld, who says he's never treated a child who was effected so much by bullying that it led to suicidal thought, said depression and anxiety are pretty common for those who are picked on a lot.

"There are tons of kids that get bullied for one reason or another, but still very few hang themselves or shoot up a school," said Rosenfeld.

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