Bullying: Do Schools Need a New Approach?

Three teenagers are expected to appear in a Massachusetts court Tuesday to face bullying charges connected to the suicide of 15-year-old Phoebe Prince. Six other students also face charges in the case. And Prince's case is just the latest in a string of bullying episodes that ended in death.

The Department of Education reports that 25 percent of American students say they were bullied at least once a day. States have tried to address the issue by mandating their school districts adopt anti-bullying initiatives. But can these policies really stop school bullying and possibly save lives? CBS News correspondent Bianca Solorzano reports.

Eleven-year-old Carl Walker-Hoover had a beaming smile.

"He loved life. He loved to laugh," said Carl's mother, Sirdeaner Walker.

But soon after Carl began sixth grade at the New Leadership Charter School in Springfield, Mass., he became the target of school bullies who taunted him - even threatened to beat and kill him.

Sirdeaner Walker says she i immediately contacted the school to address the issues. But she couldn't prevent what followed.

On April 6, 2009, Carl hanged himself with an extension cord - just 10 days shy of his 12th birthday.

CBS News has identified 10 other students ages 13 to as young as nine years old who were bullied and committed suicide in the last 12 months. Suicide is so rare among children that young the CDC doesn't even consistently track the numbers.

Yale professor Young-Shin Kim has done research on what's been termed "bullycide" and has found that victims of bullying are 5.6 times more at risk of attempting or thinking about suicide.

The administrators at the New Leadership Charter School ignored CBS News' request for an interview or comment on Carl Walker's death. But CBS News has learned the school has had an anti bullying policy since 2006, and a reported intervention happened the day Carl Walker died - leaving some advocates to question whether these initiatives fix the problem or make it worse.

Author Jodee Blanco was constantly bullied throughout elementary and high school - so much so she almost committed suicide. She now tours the country talking to students about the consequences of bullying.

She believes disciplining bullies is ineffective because it creates a hostile environment; the bullying may move online and it doesn't prevent what Blanco calls the worst kind of bullying - social isolation.

"It's the most damaging kind. … It makes you say to yourself, 'There's something wrong with me,'" she said.

At the elementary school in Harvard, Mass., school officials are trying a new method.

"What they used to tell us was as soon as you get bullied go right to the teacher to tell," a fifth grader says. "That just doesn't work."

The fifth graders are teaching younger schoolmates skills to defuse bullying by dealing with the situation calmly; treating the bully as a friend ; and not thinking of themselves as victims.

"I got bullied on the bus and I tried it out and it really did work," said fifth-grader Joey Calabres.

Getting solutions that work is now Sirdeaner Walker's mission. She's been instrumental in pushing Massachusetts to pass its first anti-bullying law. The governor is set to sign the bill later this month.

"I want Carl's legacy to be not that he was 11 years old and he committed suicide," Walker said. "I want Carl's legacy to be we've enacted laws to protect and help all of our children."
  • Bianca Solorzano

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