Friday, June 1, 2012

Standing Up to Bullies Is Not Allowed in Umatilla High School: And Don't You Forget It

Usually, when a school administration starts being noised about as a Curmie contender, it’s for creating and enforcing stupid rules: that you can’t walk at graduation if you have more than x-number of absences, even if any rational person would excuse most of those “truancies”; that you can’t go to prom alone or with someone of the same sex; that your skirt was a half-inch too short, even though other girls’ outfits were far more risqué and they weren’t punished at all; that you can’t quote the lyrics to a popular song to a classmate without getting charged with sexual harassment, even if you’re six.

Authorities at Umatilla High School in Florida have created a whole new category, however. This time, the specific rule in question is actually fine. (It actually over-reaches considerably, but that encroaching nanny-statism is not directly relevant to this discussion.) Unfortunately, it is being enforced by idiots who’d have to take a step up in class to achieve the intellect of a prune danish.

Anyway, the folks in the Lake County school system purport to take bullying pretty seriously. Here’s the relevant section from their Code of Student Conduct:
The School Board of Lake County, Florida, is committed to providing a safe, positive, productive, and nurturing educational environment for all of its students. The Board encourages the promotion of positive interpersonal relations between members of the school community. Aggressive behavior, bullying, harassment, and similar acts toward a student, whether by other students, staff, or third parties is strictly prohibited and will not be tolerated.
There’s more, including both a detailed definition and the aforementioned over-reaching, but you get the idea. The intro to the policy manual is also clear:
Each student must obey district rules while on school grounds; while being transported to or from school at public expense; and during school-sponsored events, field trips, athletic functions, and similar activities. During such times, all students are subject to the immediate control and direction of teachers, staff members, or bus drivers to whom such responsibility has been assigned by the principal.
But the school’s pious proclamations don’t hold up so well when it comes to… you know… actually doing something. Here’s the story. An 18-year-old senior named Stormy Rich (shown at left) had enough credits to not take a 1st-period class, so she was granted permission to ride the later bus to the nearby middle school.

Also on that bus was a mentally-challenged girl who was subjected to abuse by a gaggle of middle-school girls. As Rich explained to local TV reporter Jennifer Bisram,
Just because she doesn’t understand doesn’t mean this should be happening to her…. They would just be mean to her, tell her she couldn’t sit in certain spots on the bus. They were giving her food that they had put in their mouth. I had to tell her to actually spit it out, because she didn’t understand.
Rich told the bullies to stop. That worked for a while, but not for long. She then complained to the bus driver, who did nothing. Then she went to school officials, who, likewise, did nothing. She reported the abuse again. And again. And again. The girls threatened her. She went to school authorities yet again. Nothing. Out of frustration, she told the bullying brats that if the school wouldn’t do something, she would. Ah… now school officials woke up… and rescinded her right to ride on that bus. You see, she was “displaying bullying behavior.”

Yes, Gentle Reader, they really are that stupid, that incompetent, that recto-cranially inverted. The unidentified school spokesperson presumably said “two wrongs don’t make a right,” apparently too dim-witted to understand that this constitutes a tacit admission that Rich’s allegations are in fact true, and that the school did bupkes about it. You see, the victim, whom you will recall is incapable of understanding her own victimhood, didn’t report the abuse herself. Of course, there’s a school policy that states that “Lake County busses [sic.] are equipped with video/audio cameras for security purposes. Students are being taped during their ride. These tapes may be used to determine violations of the Code of Student Conduct.” In other words, there’s documentation. If the school believes Rich’s claims are disproved by the video evidence, say so. More likely, the tapes show that she’s exactly right, and that the bus driver is complicit in the bullying—by inaction and denial, at the very least.

True, being denied access to a school bus that doesn’t even go to your school isn’t exactly like getting sent to the Gulag, but the fact remains that Rich should be praised for her efforts, not punished, even a little bit. More importantly, what’s happening here is an all-too-familiar tactic by people who lack leadership skills but are nonetheless placed in positions of authority: the situation is resolved not by actually solving the underlying problem, but by silencing the witness. The school says there have been no incidents since Stormy Rich was removed from the bus. That may be true… but I wouldn’t bet the rent. My suspicion is that all that’s happened is that no one else wants to be kicked off the bus.

I’m reminded of the furor a few years ago when then-Vice President Cheney got his skivvies in a twist about the New York Times’ coverage of warrantless wiretaps that went well beyond any legitimate national security justification. You see, the threat to world peace wasn’t the fact that the spying itself was a violation of both international law and the U.S. Constitution; it was that we knew about it. The bullying of one mentally-challenged teen-ager by a pack of mean girls isn’t on that scale, of course. But it is the thin edge of the wedge: the harbinger of more criminality unpunished, more whistle-blowing suppressed, and more sanctimonious posturing by unethical buffoons paraded for our delectation.

Ms. Rich: if things don’t work out for you at Daytona State, you’re welcome in my classroom. Umatilla High officials: enjoy your Curmie nomination.

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