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Op-Ed: Stop The Bullying Now


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Today, in Verona, there are four young girls who need to have their cell phones taken away for a very, very long time. They used them to send hateful messages that could have caused a death.

According to a report by the Verona Police Department, four girls repeatedly called a 13-year-old with harassing messages, telling their target “to die” and, the Police said, “other things that are too inappropriate to memorialize in this post.”

Four bullies tried to harm someone with their words and to encourage that person to harm themself. The bullies may say now that it was just a prank, but pranks can have serious, unintended consequences. And the Police statement makes it clear that what happened was anything but light-hearted.

Thankfully, the bullies did not succeed, because the 13-year-old reported the calls to the Police. As a community, we can hope that the consequences that the four girls face for their hateful, revolting behavior are swift and severe, but that’s not enough. We need to ask ourselves why these four girls ever thought it was acceptable to talk to anyone the way they did. We need to ask ourselves whether our safety net is wide enough or deep enough or strong enough to catch and support students who don’t have the strength to go to the Police for help. We need to ask ourselves why, seven years after the death by suicide of a Verona student who had faced years of bullying in our schools, there is still bullying in our community.

These four girls are perhaps too young to have known the student who died. They are not too young to know what is acceptable: Verona’s student Code of Conduct, first presented in elementary school, spells out expectations for decent behavior. Maybe they were exposed to the peer mediation and conflict resolution program pioneered at F.N. Brown School. Maybe they’ve heard about the case of Mallory Grossman, the 12-year-old in Rockaway Township who took her life in 2017 after being bullied by classmates. Maybe, hopefully, they were told by their parents that bullying is wrong. Despite all the avenues for doing right, they still tried to bully someone and encouraged that person to die.

So what do we, as a community, do now?

While the Police investigation and the school investigation for harassment, intimidation and bullying (HIB) are more than warranted in this case, they are downstream actions. Had it not been for a courageous victim, these actions could have come too late. We need to stop bullying before it starts.

We need to make it clear to every Verona student, and every member of our community, that no two people are alike, and that we respect and celebrate our differences. We need to build the self-esteem of our children so that they have a front line of defense. We need to identify best practices to stop bullying and measure our progress toward that goal. We need to make it clear to the Police and our educators that more of the community supports efforts to curtail bullying than wants to sweep it under the rug.

We need to make it clear to every Verona student, and to every member of our community, that bullying is not a harmless prank. It has real consequences, both immediate and longer lasting. We need to make it clear to every Verona student, and to every member of our community, that the hate speech that occupies so much of the national stage has no place in Verona.

We also must hold the four bullies accountable to their victim and to this community. They have done us all harm.

That is the work that needs to be done to stop bullies, and stop their bullying. It will not be easy and the job may never be finished. But it must be done.

Photo by José Maria Martins on Unsplash

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  1. Thanks for writing this article. Sorry this happened in your town. “Bullying” is extremely harmful and can be tragic. Maybe it is time for the schools and the community to embark again on a campaign before a tragedy occurs?

  2. Very well said and frightening. This could have been a tragedy. Such bullying has existed and still exists without the Internet as well. Schools and parents must continue to take responsibility to teach our children compassion and respect for all people no matter their differences.

  3. I can’t believe this has happened in the town I grew up in. I agree what Barbara Mamchur says in her reply: Parents must take responsibility to teach our children compassion and respect for all people no matter their differences. This is so true. Kindness, compassion and empathy all starts at home. Teach your kids this please. I hope all will be ok with the victim and the bullies get reprimanded, as they should be.

  4. Virtual hugs for the brave victim who went to the police. Virtual hugs to all bullying victims. My son is a freshman now. He was bullied a lot at HBW. Although, no one tried to get him to kill himself. Now he walks home for lunch unless he has to meet with a teacher. It’s made a big difference for his mood! He went to teachers for some of it. The problem was that the bullying words used could have been interpreted as something innocent. We need to do more but Verona does so much. What’s left for us to do?

  5. I remember our dear Vanya. And I also remember the bullying I endured at that age – and I have shared that with my own kids. And I am horrified at the disgusting words/sentiments of these girls and very sad for the girl who was bullied and so grateful she had the courage to take it to the police in order to be heard. We do not do enough in the middle school to address bullying. The girl will need much TLC but the girls who did this bullying will ideally get some serious mental health counseling for a long time. It is said that “hurt people, hurt people.” Apparently, they were crying out for help with their disgusting words, also. Thank you for this article. We still have a long way to go.

  6. Virginia, we all extend a big hug to you in writing this provoking piece. Since the death of your beautiful son, there has been more light shed on youth issues such as this. However, this incident also illuminates for us that much more has to be done to protect our children. Thank you for continuing to sound the clarion call that may help others after reading this.

  7. My grandson is in 7th grade and his life at school is a living he’ll. He is being bullied by a group of boys daily. I hear others stating parents should educate their children to be accepting of others, kind, etc, but that is not the case. These bullies have been raised by parents that have influenced their children to be filled with cruelty, hate, and a lack of manners beyond what most of us would consider the bare minimum. We can only assume these parents are worse than the bullies they have raised. There should be a strike 3 your moved to a Behaviorial Modification Program in a School for students unable to behave according to the basic norms of society for a period long enough to eradicate the behavior. Ideally make the parents of bullies culpable and forced to attend counseling with their children, provide transportation to the new school and be directly affected by their child’s behavior, hopefully this will stop the bad behavior. Why is it the child being bullied that is moved to a different class? Sent to counseling? They did nothing wrong! REMOVE the problem, the bully. Suspension, in school suspension, no PE privileges, eat lunch in the in school suspension class, be made to stay there all day. ( 1st strike 2 weeks, 2nd strike 4 weeks, 3 rd strike sent to Behavioral School). Schools need to take harsher a tons. Perhaps a month with a strict teacher all day, no privileges, eat alone in a class, and drop off pick up by parents only, no bus privileges, because they cannot be trusted, will change the behavior. In addition an hour every day in behavior modification therapy with a trained school psychologist would make a huge difference in their outlook and behavior. If not take them out of the mainstream and put all of them together in an alternative school. Unfortunately, or fortunately, most districts have alternative schools for children that cannot behave towards their peers, teachers, and administrators as they have been taught since kindergarten. The things we tolerate in the schools today are ridiculous.

  8. Thank you for writing this article even though I am sure it was painful for you. It is essential for all children to learn the consequences of bullying .

  9. Everything starts in the home. To quote a Chinese proverb, “If there is righteouness in the heart , there will be beauty in the character. If there be beauty in the character there will be harmony in the home. If there is harmony in the home, there will be order in the nation” When used improperly, a phone can be as lethal as a gun. Both can kill. Four of my grandchildren (all in the same family) were not given phones until after graduating high school. Drastic perhaps; but none were the worse for it. We all (parents,children, teachers) could do well with a course in “Kindness 101”


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