All 15-year-old Phoebe Prince wanted was to be liked. But after moving from Ireland to Massachusetts, it wasn't long before Phoebe endured bullying from the "mean girls" at school. They stalked Phoebe, called her an "Irish whore," and intimidated her relentlessly. In January, the mean girls followed Phoebe home and threw a Monster energy drink can at her. Phoebe kept walking - past the harassment, past the can, past the white picket fence, into her house. Then she walked into a closet and hanged herself.
When her mother enrolled Phoebe the previous fall, she told the principal her daughter had been bullied in Ireland. The principal assured her he would watch out for Phoebe. But Phoebe's mother didn't document that discussion with a follow-up letter. She didn't ask for a copy of the school's anti-harassment policy. She didn't ask for a plan of intervention if Phoebe was bullied.
She didn't fail to do these things because she was indifferent. She didn't do these things because she didn't know she had the ability to intervene and to foment decisive action.
It's one thing for school administrators to give parents lip service. It's quite another for them to be accountable for their promises. If your child is being bullied, here are five tips for ensuring that her school will do right by you and your child.
Be sensitive to your child's moods. If your child seems hesitant to discuss it, don't force it. Spend some time in a favorite activity with your child to reinvigorate the bonds of affection that can promote dialogue.
It's crucial to obtain a copy of the school's anti-bullying policy to determine whether, in your opinion, anything that happened violated it. Work that into your narrative - starting with what should happen and why you know a violation took place.
In 40-plus years as an educator, I have never seen a more difficult environment for children than that which exists today. If parents learn how to work with schools to put an end to bullying, we might prevent more tragedies like that of Phoebe Prince.
Dr. Edward Dragan provides education expert consultation for high-profile and complicated cases. As an educator and administrator, he has more than 35 years' experience as a teacher, principal, superintendent and director of special education. He also has served as a state department of education official.
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