OP-ED | When Adults - and Politicians - Are Bystanders to Bullying
“After all there are no innocent bystanders. What are they doing here in the first place?”—William S. Burroughs
On Tuesday evening, I attended a screening in Greenwich of two documentaries about bullying: “The Bully Effect” and “Bystanders: Ending Bullying.” The panel discussion afterward was long overdue, and it’s tragic that it took the suicide of a Greenwich High sophomore, Bart Palosz, on the first day of school, to finally get this conversation to happen.
Palosz’ sister Beata, told the Greenwich Time about the relentless bullying her brother suffered and how it was ignored by the school system.
Watching assistant principal Kim Lockwood’s insensitive dismissal of the parents who came to discuss their son’s treatment gave me a PTSD reaction. It reminded me of how I was fobbed off by the assistant principal at Western Middle School in Greenwich when I went to complain about bullying my son was experiencing.
Western is the same school that Bart Palosz attended. Sadly, it seems that despite the anti-bullying statutes, signed into law by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in 2011, not enough has changed.
But it takes more than signing legislation. It takes willingness to act — consistently. It’s about modeling behavior. This was rightly pointed out by panelist Ed Moran, senior social worker and community educator at Family Centers.
I think this is best summed up by a Dorothy Law Nolte poem my parents had on the wall in my childhood home, “Children Learn What They Live.”
The obvious lesson is that “Do as I say, but not as I do” is not an effective parenting strategy; nor is it effective school leadership.
Being a bystander to bullying is what enables it to continue. As Barbara Coloroso defines them in her book, The Bully, The Bullied and The Bystander, bystanders “aid and abet the bully, by acts of omission and commission.”
When the bystanders are adults in the administrative and political infrastructure, as they were in my son’s case and appear to be in Hartford, it is all the more disturbing.
In September 2012, the state Education Department made a site visit to Capital Prep Magnet School as a result of a parent complaint dated May 2012 that had gone unaddressed by Capital Prep administrators and Hartford Superintendent of Schools Christina Kishimoto’s office for months.
The Education Department laid out steps that Capital Prep needed to take to comply with state laws and regulations. Despite this, Capital Prep didn’t file a Corrective Action Plan on its bullying policies until October 2013, some 13 months after the site visit. Not only that, but as has been reported by Jonathan Pelto based on documents obtained through an FOI request, as of Dec. 23, 2013, even after the long delay, Capital Prep still wasn’t in compliance on its Corrective Action Plan.
Let’s reiterate for the sake of clarity: 19 months after parents filed a complaint with the Education Department regarding the bullying experienced by their child at the school, Capital Prep still wasn’t in compliance.
Yet, Kishimoto appears to be doing nothing about it. Even more astonishing, the Hartford Board of Education was ready to reward Perry for his negligence and non-compliance with another school.
Even more disturbing is that State Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor is seriously considering rewarding Perry with a charter school in Bridgeport. There are several ethical issues in need of investigation surrounding the formation of Perry’s charter company, but that is fodder for another column. It’s gotten to the point where I’m starting to wonder whether Perry has photos of all these people in compromising positions, because it seems to be the only rational explanation for continuing to ignore, condone, and reward his behavior.
That’s all before I’ve even mentioned Perry’s conduct on the Internet. We all know about the infamous “Strap up, there will be head injuries” tweet, which the principal then claimed was a “metaphor,” suggesting that perhaps he needs a remedial English class to learn the actual meaning and use of metaphor.
But then there are what appear to be the sock puppet blog comments, on posts regarding Capital Prep. Pelto has recorded over 100 comments originating from the same IP address under a variety of handles.
Most recently, these were on a post highlighting a piece written by former teacher Michael Fryar, who was terminated from Capital Prep after filing an employment discrimination complaint.
Just as there is an Internet use policy for students in Hartford Public Schools, there also is one for adults.
I emailed David Medina, director of communications for Hartford Public Schools, asking for confirmation of the IP address 188.8.131.52 and whether it was part of the Hartford Public Schools network. He did not respond to my email before this posting. According to a listing service, the IP is located in Hartford.
It appears that the only way for the press to get a response from Hartford Public Schools is by filing a formal Freedom of Information request.
Perhaps the greatest irony in this whole situation is that as a certified administrator in Connecticut, Perry is no doubt being afforded due process rights like any other unionized employee -– the rights he despises so publicly as the scourge of the education system and is so anxious to deny to teachers employed at Capital Prep and elsewhere around the country. One suspects that if it weren’t for due process, or some other unrevealed leverage, Mr. Perry might well be out of a job.
Sarah Darer Littman is an award-winning columnist and novelist of books for teens. A former securities analyst, she’s now an adjunct in the MFA program at WCSU, and enjoys helping young people discover the power of finding their voice as an instructor at the Writopia Lab.