Ogemaw Heights student bullied into homecoming court? (Society’s Slideshow)

By Dave Palmer

Whitney Kropp and Ogemaw Heights High School caused a bit of a ruckus in the news recently and added fuel to the fire of school bullying talk. Kropp was nominated to the school’s sophomore homecoming court, only to find out after her name was read over the PA that the nomination was intended to be a humiliating joke at her expense.

Kropp was in fact humiliated, and the incident was immediately identified as bullying. Some of Kropp’s classmates claimed in the September 25 Detroit Free Press story about the incident stated that they felt that the incident had been blown out of proportion, and cast the school in a negative light. This of course prompted a reader in Maine to write the Free Press a letter published on September 27th that said “Too bad for the school!” and “Clearly the school teachers and administrators never dealt with the bullying conduct until it became too public to ignore.”

This is the point where I get confused. In what way is nominating a classmate to homecoming court bullying? Why are teachers, administrators, and the principal at fault for taking anonymous ballots seriously and reading the results over the PA? When exactly in the paradigm of things teachers and administrators are responsible for do they have time to investigate these ballots and make sure the students are really being serious?

It is ludicrous to assume that teachers and administrators somehow were aware that about a dozen students had taken it upon themselves to corrupt the homecoming court nominating process. The nominations were taken by secret ballot, and completely anonymous.

P.S. It was great to see Kropp honored the way she was at homecoming. She deserved it.

Even if they were not anonymous, I seriously doubt that any teacher or administrator would think for a second that the students had nominated someone as a way to hurt that person. Being nominated for homecoming court is supposed to be honorable, not hurtful. Therefore, teachers and administrators most likely would not take the time to consider the idea that the nomination was a fake.

Homecoming season also has another name for teachers and administrators: MEAP season. Every grade level that takes the MEAP tests spends about the first month of school reviewing for the MEAP in addition to attempting to teach new material at the same time. Since schools could be identified as poorly performing if they fall even one point below the state scoring standard, most of teaching time is occupied with MEAP review. That leaves decidedly little time for meaningful classroom instruction, much less double-checking homecoming nominations.

Even if teachers and administrators were able to figure out that the homecoming nomination was false, breaking the news to Kropp would probably be even more devastating  than her classmates laughing at her nomination in school. No teacher or administrator would feel comfortable pulling Kropp aside and saying “You were nominated for homecoming court, but we found out that students were not being serious, so you can’t be on the homecoming court.”

Parents may  be surprised to find out that very little bullying happens where teachers and administrators are present. Most bullying takes place where the bullies can’t be identified, and away from the watchful eyes of authority figures. Thanks to Michigan bullying legislation, ostensibly  built to deal with this fact, teachers and administrators are not only responsible to deal with in-school bullying, but also must protect students “portal to portal” (meaning we are responsible for any bullying that happens on the way to school or home) and play Big Brother by watching for cyber-bullying online. Now I suppose that teachers and administrators will have to displace even more prep and education time to deal with fake homecoming ballots.

Parents need to take some responsibility for raising their children to be decent and responsible adults and stop dumping the responsibility on teachers and administrators.  Michigan legislature needs to revamp the MEAP system so teachers can have time to teach students the civic responsibility of not nominating someone to any election for giggles because the potential exists that the nominee could win.

Most of all, provisions must be made to force parents of students identified as bullies to attend anti-bullying seminars with their student. Until we go back to making negative student behavior an inconvenience for parents, the bullying problem will continue to escalate.

In the meantime, the principal of the school should suspend the popular election of sophomore homecoming court, appoint Kropp homecoming queen of the sophomore class, and giver her some sort of decision-making power over her fellow students. After all, the worst punishment for making a poor choice is having to live with the consequences of that choice.

The selfish students who thought that such an honor as being nominated to homecoming court should be used as a device for humiliating another student should be ashamed of their actions. However, the faculty and staff of Ogemaw Heights High School can hardly be blamed for failing to circumvent bullying when an anonymous process such as nominating the homecoming court that teachers are trained to take seriously was used as a vehicle for humiliation.

Teachers and administrators simply do not have the time to investigate anonymous nominations for evidence of malfeasance. They should not have to inform any student that their homecoming court nomination was intended to be a joke to hurt them. Their mission is to educate students and prepare them for a lifetime of civility and responsibility. It should be the mission or parents to reinforce lessons of civility and responsibility rather than playing the blame game to shun their accountability as parents.



Time to get serious about bullying (Society’s Slideshow)

More frequently than not, bullying makes its way into the news these days. Bullying is nothing new in human society, but the recent focus on the subject is. People from grade school to the professional world claim to be bullied for whatever reason.

It all starts on the playground, when a kid who grows at about twice the rate of everyone else figures out that he can throw his weight around and extort lunch money from the pockets of those not blessed with such an active pituitary gland.

It moves up the scale to junior high and high school, where this same person with the same pituitary gland figures out he can get away with calling people names, putting weaker individuals in lockers and garbage cans, or giving them a royal swirlie.

One would like to think that this stops once a person matures into adulthood. Sadly, this is not the case. Usually, they go to the police academy, and are allowed to continue to bully people. This time, they have a badge, a gun, and an entire compendium of laws to back them up.

Our current Michigan Legislature thinks that the best way to combat the bully problem is by requiring teachers to engage in professional development regarding the subject of bullying. I am required to endure at least an hour’s presentation for my school.

Then, I will have to use classroom time to talk about bullying that could be used for, oh I don’t know, teaching material that students must regurgitate on the state tests. I could even use it to teach the critical thinking skills that employers are demanding these days. (gasp!)

Other schools will be forced to assign curriculum and assessments to address the bullying problem, which will draw even more time away from teaching students the subject they are supposed to be learning. They will do week-long projects, put up billboards in schools, and probably even have a day where everyone dresses in purple in memory of the gay Rutgers student who committed suicide after his roommate streamed video of him kissing another male.

While this is all well-intentioned, I maintain that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Spewing rhetoric about encouraging others to speak up and not allow bullies to get away with their torment may work for a limited time. In a school environment, its a great idea because you have to deal with a lot of people the same or similar ages as you who can make you into a social exile if you don’t stop. (Wait a tick, isn’t that another form of bullying?)

But once the school bell rings, what’s to stop these kids from bullying? Where will the teachers and principals be to stop their crass behavior? Most likely at home, fulfilling their state-mandated requirement to keep tabs on their students’ Facebook pages for signs of cyber-bullying.

All the curriculum in the world will not put an end to bullying. Talking about the subject, hosting focus groups, assigning curriculum will do nothing to alleviate the problem. In fact, it may serve to give bullies resources to bully with that they didn’t know existed.

Instead, we should deny all bullies a future career in law enforcement. If you are ever found guilty of any sort of bullying at any stage in your life, you cannot become a police officer. Period.

This approach will effectively kill two birds with one stone. It will ensure that anyone who wants to become a police officer was never a bully. This will effectively end bullying because most police officers were bullies while in school.

This will simultaneously clean up the law enforcement occupation. Rather than having cops riding roughshod over people’s constitutional rights in the name of their version of justice, they will actually use the resources our society has given them to do their jobs. (i.e. search warrants and probable cause)

It will also ensure that those people who choose to exercise their constitutional rights to remain silent, to not incriminate themselves, and to legal defense will be thought of ordinary citizens rather than smart-alecks who are giving the fuzz a hard time.

Only a proactive measure like the threat of being denied a future occupation that you might enjoy can serve as an effective deterrent. Only by disallowing any bullies admittance into any police training facility will we end bullying for good and improve the function of our criminal justice system. What good is bullying if you can’t get paid to do it?

Bullying Response: Self Defense or sexual harrassment? (Society’s Slideshow)

Bullying has been a prevalent problem in schools for quite some time. Bullying has come under increased scrutiny pursuant to news stories about students who have committed suicide because they were bullied too much.

Thinking back to the time I was in school, parents generally encouraged their progeny to stand up to bullies. They painted the bullies as cowards who hide behind a mask of teasing and sometimes violence because of their own insecurities. Parents also told their parents that it was okay to defend themselves if a bully decided to use violence to impose their will on the victim.

However, according to boston.cbslocal.com, one student is going to be charged with sexual harassment for engaging in a self defense tactic taught in many adult self-defense courses: kicking a guy in the testicles.

A 7-year old boy, identified in the story as Mark Curran, said that a boy on the school bus approached him, and began choking him, apparently to get Curran to surrender his gloves. Curran said to his mother “I couldn’t breathe, so I kicked him in the testicles.”

The school is refusing to bill this action as a preservation of life reflex and instead is opting to treat the case as a sexual harassment case, citing a definition of inappropriate touching as reasoning.

Inappropriate touching? Wasn’t it inappropriate for the bully to come up to Curran and begin to choke him in the first place? And since when is it inappropriate to do anything in your power to stop someone from choking the breath out of you? What is happening to the bully in this case?

It is simply appalling that a school would even consider approaching a bullying situation like this by persecuting a boy who is obviously a victim trying to defend himself. I would certainly kick someone in the testicles who was choking me for any reason, especially if they were seeking to take my rightful property away from me for a laugh.

Curran should certainly be made aware that an action such as kicking someone in the testicles can cause serious permanent damage. He should definitely know that the only situation in which this action is even remotely acceptable is in cases when life or limb is truly believed to be in dire jeopardy.

However, this 7-year old has absolutely no concept of what sexual harassment is, nor does kicking another boy in the testicles register as his foot “inappropriately touching” the other boy’s testicles. Curran simply knows that it’ll hurt really bad and is a good way to stop someone from choking him.

No mention of what is being done to punish the bully for choking Curran has been given by the school. A Boston Public Schools official has cited the private nature of the case, and says that the district will conduct an investigation.

Whatever the result of the investigation, it will surely amount to a waste of educational dollars. However, it seems the school district would rather spend the money than assume that the action was justified as a self-preservation move.

Actions by schools or school districts that vilify a victim of bullying for self defense actions only serve to exacerbate the bullying problem. Bullies will simply be emboldened when they hear that the person they were picking on is getting in a worse sort of trouble than they are. The message to them is that any sort of self-defense action will be considered the same as, or worse, than their initial act of violence or teasing.

Rather than focus on a potential sexual harassment charge, they should be trotting out the threat of charging the bully with attempted murder. After all, the bully engaged in an action that might be construed to be intended to deprive Curran of his life, all to get a pair of gloves.

If school districts want to get tough on bullying, they need to get tough on bullies. Threaten to charge them with robbery (taking lunch money), assault (beating someone up for lunch money) or attempted murder (choking someone to get their gloves from them. Even if the charges are not filed, bullies should be made to realize that they dodged a major bullet due to their reckless actions.

Any of these things would be better than holding a victim accountable for defending themselves against a potentially harmful action by another. Once we start holding 7-year-old victims accountable for self-defense actions, it won’t be too much longer before a woman is charged with sexual harassment for kicking a potential rapist in the testicles. When that day comes, school districts, police departments, and governments will all have no moral or legal high ground to stand on in dealing with America’s bullying problem.