The Conversation

Why School Bullying Must Be Stopped Immediately

Have you read the horrific story about Gabrielle Molina, the twelve-year-old Queens girl who committed suicide after being consistently bullied by classmates?

The New York Post reports:

The tiny Queens girl who hanged herself Wednesday had been mercilessly taunted by classmates who called her names and mocked her appearance, friends and family said yesterday.

Gabrielle Molina’s body was discovered by her sister Georgia, 15, in their shared bedroom at their Queens Village house at 2:30 p.m.

The 12-year-old girl — who barely stood 5 feet tall — left an anguished suicide note that referenced her tormentors.

“She was bullied,” said IS 109 classmate Samantha Martin, 12. “She said that she wanted to move schools because she felt uncomfortable. People wanted to jump her.”

Gabrielle’s sobbing father, George Molina, said his daughter had been slowly wearing down from abuse that had continued online after the dismissal bell.

I realize that you may already be asking yourself accountability questions. Hold on, though, because there's more:

George Molina fumed that Gabrielle’s school, IS 109, did not respond quickly enough when the family complained to administrators about the online footage.

But Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said yesterday that a preliminary investigation did not reveal any serious bullying problems at the Queens middle school.

However, the school was given only a “C” for its safety environment in the city’s 2012 progress reports.

“I don’t think I knew the word suicide when I was 12 years old or 11 years old,” Walcott said.

A staggering 70 percent of IS 109 students said they didn’t feel safe there.

This is absolutely outrageous. The school was given a "C" for safety in the city's 2012 progress reports and no immediate serious action was taken? How could a preliminary investigation not reveal any serious bullying problems if 70% of students didn't feel safe there? Were the principal and administrators heavily reviewed on-site? Were jobs lost and replacements made that would restore a positive culture at the school? Were parents contacted repeatedly and students responsible for the bullying suspended--and if the behavior continued, expelled? Were interviews with students immediately conducted after those progress reports were released, to find out exactly what was going on in classrooms, in the cafeteria, and at recess to make so many kids feel unsafe?

Bullying among kids is a very serious matter. As a former academic dean and teacher, I've seen it up close. If action isn't taken immediately to ensure that there is no tolerance for that kind of behavior, things can--and sometimes do--get dangerous. Even if kids aren't harmed physically, their grades can suffer, as can their confidence, leaving them with numerous academic and psychological struggles.

It is the responsibility of a school administration to provide a safe environment for kids. Even in unfortunate cases where parents are absent or disinterested, administrators must enforce a no-tolerance policy for bullying within the confines of school settings.

Any administrator who doesn't do that should be fired. Any school that doesn't quickly and adequately address bullying concerns brought to its attention by parents must be reviewed immediately, top to bottom. That means people lose their jobs and big administrative changes happen--right away.

The well-being of kids--and in some serious cases, their lives--are at stake.

Jedediah Bila is a former high-school academic dean and adviser, and has taught at the middle school, high school, and college levels. Follow Jedediah on Twitter @JedediahBila.     


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