Last week, we shared with you the heartbreaking story of Branchdale teen Carter Larkin-Kukta. Sadly, he took his own life after withstanding persistent bullying for years.
The story reached thousands of people in the coal region and beyond and one of the many responses to it was: The school should do something to stop bullying.
Well, one school district in the coal region is dealing with its own bullying problem and the public is putting the pressure on Lehighton Area School District to act.
What we want to know is: What do you think a school should do to prevent or stop bullying? And is your child’s school afraid to fight back against bullies?
Are they letting the bullies win?
Lehighton School District Bullying Incident and Response
According to a Times-News report from the most recent Lehighton school board meeting, the issue of apparent widespread bullying in the district sparked public debate. And the response from school board members and district staff has the public just as frustrated.
It’s showing that what the schools claim is the limit to what they can do isn’t enough. And maybe they’re right. It looks like bullies are bullying our schools, too.
At the meeting, per the Times-News, parents reported the following incidents of bullying (and one incident of “hazing” that sounds like the result of bullying):
- The mother of an elementary student says her son was recently tackled in a bathroom and suffered a skull fracture.
- An alleged hazing of a middle school student could be deemed a sexual assault.
- The mother of a special needs student says she now home-schools because “a bully is back in the district.”
When people go to school board meetings or borough council meetings, there’s some expectation that whatever board they’re addressing will take action. That’s not usually the case. In fact, many times elected officials will just sit there and listen to people speak and then move on.
At this particular school board meeting, Lehighton officials did offer up some responses but mostly to a frustrated audience, it seems.
Do Laws Favor Bullies?
If what Lehighton’s school administration says is true, schools are barely allowed to impose serious discipline and even if they did, you can’t know about it.
Now, is this the case at every school district here in Schuylkill County? Or can one district choose to take a different approach to bullying?
This collective policy seems to be creating powder kegs inside a lot of schools, especially locally here in the coal region. And a lot of people responding to our report last week seem to believe that laws do favor bullies and only put the bullied more at risk.
Well, it appears that schools may really be just afraid to fight a bully where it really counts – in an actual court of law.
Schools Running Kangaroo Courts
For the majority of reported bullying incidents, the school is playing judge and jury but says it can’t disclose much about any cases, as it were.
In other words, they’d tell you they were taking care of it but that’s all they’d tell you.
Examples of this came up in Lehighton this week. In response to the elementary school incident, one district official told the public that details of what happens inside the school can’t be released.
You can’t know how kids are being bullied and what punishments are handed down against them.
The school’s superintendent said to the mother of the elementary student, “There are a lot of protected rights for children. Even if your child is bullied or a victim, we can’t discuss with you the punishment for the other child or children involved.”
Your child is bullied. Someone in the school reports it. The school listens to the allegations and hands out punishments. But if you’re the parent of the bullied child, you’re not allowed to know what happened to their bully.
In this case in Lehighton, the parent of the bullied child said the school separated the students in different classrooms but they still eat and take recess at the same time.
When you consider that, it’s easy to see why the schools don’t want details of these cases going public.
Hands Tied? Are Schools Afraid to Fight Bullies in Court?
Lehighton officials also offered other reasons why they can’t go after bullies or refuse to, in some cases.
Some students, they say, are protected by certain laws. For instance, a student on an Individualized Education Program can only be suspended for 10 days out of school per year. They can’t be expelled from school, Lehighton says.
And if a student isn’t on an IEP, they have rights that protect them and keep them in a school where they’re perceived as a bully by some. Parents can just flatly reject another education program and if the school tried to expel them, it could turn into a prolonged legal battle.
Not that any taxpayer wants to see their local school district get involved in a lengthy and costly lawsuit, but aren’t there times when it may be worth the fight?
If school officials in Lehighton and anywhere else in Schuylkill County or across the coal region are truly frustrated with laws that protect bullies, shouldn’t they pick this fight?
FULL REPORT FROM LEHIGHTON:
- Lehighton mother speaks out about bullying (Times-News)