Bullying Puts School Vigilance in Question

A gay teenager in New York wins $50,000 from a school district that failed to stop taunts about his sexual orientation. The Justice Department investigates complaints that administrators ignored racial bullying in a Philadelphia school.

And in Massachusetts, a 15-year-old girl hangs herself after she is mercilessly harassed for months - taunting and threats that school administrators knew about but did not stop.

Now, with nine students charged in the bullying of Phoebe Prince, who hanged herself at her family's home in January, questions have arisen about how accountable school officials should be for stopping bullying.

Barbara Coloroso, a nationally known anti-bullying consultant, had been contacted by South Hadley school officials months before Phoebe's death, after a young boy in nearby Springfield killed himself. She spent a day there in September, training teachers and administrators on how to recognize and deal with bullying.

Coloroso said school officials made mistakes by failing to stop the bullying and, after Phoebe hanged herself, by allowing at least some of the students involved to continue to attend classes and a school dance with no visible signs of discipline.

" I spoke with the educators and parents in the community about how important it was to have those three Ps," Coloroso said on CBS' "The Early Show" Tuesday.

"Strong anti-bullying policy; procedures in place that protect the targets and hold bullies accountable; and programs in place that would say 'No more, not here, never' to mean and cruel [behavior] and teach young people how to stand up and speak out."

Coloroso Discusses the Dangers of Bullying

"The questions to ask are: Did they follow their own rules and did they keep Phoebe safe? Obviously not. And, did they deal effectively with the bullies? Obviously not," Coloroso told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

Authorities say Prince, who had recently emigrated from Ireland, endured months of verbal assaults and threats after she briefly dated a popular boy. She was harassed mostly in school, but also on Facebook and through other electronic forms.

District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel said the inaction of school officials was troublesome but not criminal.

More than 40 states have anti-bullying laws that generally require schools to adopt a set of preventive policies. But Marlene Snyder of Clemson University's Institute on Family and Neighborhood Life said laws and policies don't necessarily help if schools don't follow through with intensive training for teachers and staff.

"In defense of teachers, very few of them have ever had training on bullying prevention, much less how to intervene without making the situation worse," she said. "Some people don't understand the dramatic and devastating effect that this kind of treatment can have on a child."

In upstate New York, the Mohawk Central School District agreed Monday to do more to protect students from harassment as part of a settlement with a gay teenager who claimed he was relentlessly bullied.

The boy, described only as 15-year-old Jacob, now goes to another school, and his father said he hopes other districts take note of what happened in the working-class village.

"I wish some other schools would follow in the footsteps of this school and make changes," said Robert Sullivan, who has a different last name than Jacob. "A lot of schools are going through the same thing as this school."

In Georgia, 11-year-old Jaheem Herrera committed suicide at his Atlanta-area home last year after his parents say he was repeatedly tormented in school. School officials denied it and an independent review found bullying was not a factor, but his family rejects that conclusion.

And at South Philadelphia High School, Asian students say they've endured relentless bullying and racial epithets by black students while school officials ignored their complaints. The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund filed a complaint in January with the U.S. Justice Department.

In the Massachusetts case, school officials had previously said they did not know about Phoebe's harassment before she committed suicide. They have said some students accused of taking part in the bullying have been disciplined and will not return to class.

Administrators and School Committee members did not return calls and e-mails seeking comment. In a statement, Assistant Superintendent Christine Swelko said "a small group of students" was removed from school Tuesday. She would not say how many or whether they had been expelled.

She said the school, through its anti-bullying task force, was continuing to review its policies and programs.



Comments

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.

Watch Now

New Android App

For your Android phone and tablet, download the FREE redesigned app, featuring CBSN, live 24/7 news.

Download
The all new
CBS News App for Android® for iPad® for iPhone®
Fully redesigned. Featuring CBSN, 24/7 live news. Get the App