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Opinion

Bullied bus monitor: one cog in a broken machine

Bullied bus monitor Karen Klein had a responsibility to assert her authority. The takeaway for a child witnessing her passivity would be: 'If a grown-up can’t do anything to stop them, then I sure can’t.' That simply isn’t true. School districts and parents must learn from this case.

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A victim might be outnumbered by bullies, but bullies are frequently outnumbered by witnesses. With instruction, encouragement, and support, these witnesses can shift the balance of power by virtue of their numbers.

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But they first must be taught that they have that power, and assured that their reports will be taken seriously. Peer intervention is a powerful force. This entire incident went public because a fellow student, under the moniker CapitalTrigga, uploaded the video to YouTube in order to draw attention to the problem, becoming unsung hero in this drama. Once that happened, the bullies were steamrollered into submission by the crushing weight of public opinion.

Apologists for Klein’s total lack of action might insist that she wasn’t trained to handle bullies, or that she simply felt powerless. If either is true, it points to a wider, more systemic problem: that Klein’s school district fails to provide its personnel with adequate training to manage abusive students, thereby putting all students at risk, or that they fail to listen to or act on staff reports of abusive student behavior. Either scenario would allow bullying to flourish.

Had Klein’s employers done more to emphasize an intolerant attitude toward bullying, we might have seen her display a little more backbone, knowing that school officials had her back. But in interviews, Klein said that she didn’t even do so much as write the boys up for their hateful behavior, because, in her words, “What good would it do?”

Eventually, the boys did receive a full year of suspension from school – but only after the video had made the rounds. If this sort of punishment was standard, with or without a viral video, school officials sure didn’t let Klein in on it. Her assumption was that nothing would happen to those kids.

The saddest thing is how familiar the experience of bullying is for children, in all walks of life. Rare is the person who’s been through twelve years of schooling and not witnessed bullying. But since bullying is such an ancient tradition, too many of us have become complacent about it, assuming there’s nothing that can be done instead of doing everything possible to stop it.

It’s a shame what Karen Klein went through, but the bigger shame is that, after all these centuries – despite media attention and efforts in schools – effective bullying prevention measures are still not implemented in all schools – as well as on school buses. And the most successful anti-bullying programs don’t only deal with bullies and victims, but engage everyone on campus.

This incident can help to create an entire culture that is intolerant of bullying – one that obligates, involves, and empowers everyone – administrators, teachers, parents, students, and yes, even bus monitors. Now that would be a happy ending.

L.J. Williamson is a writer living in Los Angeles. Visit her website at http://www.ljwilliamson.com.

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