I saw the story of former Pasco County student Zachery Gray early this morning on TBO.com, and it has weighed heavily on my heart since.
According to TBO, in May 2011, Gray, then 17, fashioned a noose from a dog chain to take his own life after being tormented by bullies every day at Zephyrhills High School.
His mother, Lynn "Sissy" Gray, found him and saved him from the shed rafter he hung himself from, but he now has severe brain damage and is paralyzed from the attempt. The Grays have not been able to get answers from the Pasco County School District since the incident occured, TBO reported.
The Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act, unanimously passed by the state senate in 2008, requires all Florida school districts to have an official policy in place which prohibits bullying and harassment of students and staff on school grounds, at school-sponsored events, and through school computer networks.
The statute was given an A++ by Bully Police USA, a watchdog organization that advocates for bullied children and reports on state bullying laws. The website calls Florida's law "the best anti-bullying law written to date."
But is it working? Are teachers, administrators and schools reporting incidents as they should, or are they turning a blind eye, maintaining the "kids will be kids" status quo?
According to TBO, Pasco reported only 28 bullying incidents in 2011 in the entire district, which has 89 schools and 67,000 students. No incidents were reported at Zephyrhills High or Sunlake.
Those numbers seem questionable to me.
What do you think? Has your child been bullied at school? Has the school responded appropriately?
Our children should not be tormented in school. They should not fear retaliation for standing up for themselves or a classmate. They should not have to hide in a classroom and eat lunch in the school office to avoid harassment, as teachers said Zachery Gray did.
But beyond the school's responsibility to keep children safe, ultimately the responsibility lies with the parents. I've been a hockey mom for more than a decade. I've seen parents cheer their child's misconduct on the ice. I've overheard fathers offering their sons $10 for throwing a dirty hit on an opposing player. In fact, my own son has been a target more than once. The first time I heard about the price on his head, if you will, was when he was 11 years old.
I imagine that this mentality does not create an atmosphere conducive to discouraging that same child from bullying others at school.
My own children know that the only thing that will get them in serious trouble with me is the mistreatment of another child. Grades come a distant second to treating every person they meet with kindness and respect. I also expect them to stick up for those who cannot or will not stick up for themselves.
I don't have the answers. I know the solution starts at home, but I also know that it's not a priority to every parent to have zero tolerance for the mistreatment of other children. I wish it were. Teachers and administrators are human. They aren't always going to get it right, either. Talking to our own kids about what's going on at school can help us spot a problem brewing, though there's not always a simple solution.
My heart breaks for Zachery, his family and friends, as well for all of the students out there struggling each day in school because of harassment by their peers. It has to stop.