Victoria Colflesh recalls hiding in the school attic as a child in Ukraine to avoid the bullies who tormented her.
“It was systematic,” the Land O’ Lakes resident said.
The abuse she endured at the hands of her classmates was paralyzing emotionally.
Eventually, she stopped showing up.
“The smart kids become victims and fail out because they’re scared to go to school,” she said.
Now a mother of two children with special needs, Colflesh said she sees bullying as “a silent epidemic” that needs to be stopped.
Movies and television often portray bullying as humorous, “it’s supposedly part of life,” she said. The kids-will-be-kids mentality associated with the teasing and physical abuse of classmates often is accepted by society and at home, she said. But it shouldn’t be.
“It’s a total tragedy.”
If an adult threatened or harassed someone, they would likely to go to jail, she said. “I find that there’s a double standard.”
Another part of the problem is that children do not have the communication skills for self-advocacy. Kids are not likely to speak up for themselves, for fear of retribution, Colflesh said.
Children feel ashamed when they are bullied; anxiety and depression set in, and they may have to seek therapy or medical intervention, she said.
They feel they have failed, and that something is wrong with them rather than something being wrong with the child doing the bullying, Colflesh said.
The current process of dealing with the behaviors—the victim goes to therapy and the bully gets detention—“makes the victim look more abnormal than the one who caused the problem to begin with,” she said.
In the worst instances, when a victim takes drastic measures, the public knows that child’s name, but never the names of his or her tormentors, Colflesh said.
That problem also seems to be one that is not documented as well as it could be. Pasco County Schools reported only 28 instances of bullying in 2011 in the entire district, which has 89 schools and 67,000 students.
Teachers can't possibly see everything that's going on, so students need to be given the tools to report bullying anonymously, and those reports need to be taken seriously, Colflesh said.
"It's a much deper problem than it appears to be," she said.
As a parent, Colflesh says that having children with special needs in the Pasco school district presents additional challenges.
In her daughter’s special education classroom, there is a range of ages, and the disparity of their physical sizes creates a problem. At one point, there was an older boy who would regularly hit her then 9-year-old daughter, once breaking her hair clip and cutting her with it, Colflesh said.
She said she has nothing against the students or parents, rather her problem is with the system.
There are limited resources for special education in Pasco, in Colflesh's opinion. Students with all levels of difficulties are placed together, with the most attention paid to those with the most problems, she said.
“It’s a recipe for disaster.”
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