Student suspended after disarming gunman: A week of heroes and bullies

A student suspended after disarming gunman gets a mom thinking about the cast of characters – heroes, bullies, and victims – in the justice vs. safety ethic schools must deal with.

AP / Weinstein Company
Student suspended after disarming gunman: Can students bully with impunity? Alex Weinstein, one of the subjects followed in the documentary 'Bully'.

If surveys are correct, there may be 160,000 American kids avoiding school right now in an effort to dodge bullying. It’s a figure I came across as I contemplated the national news reports of a Pennsylvania boy’s death from alleged bullying and a Florida high school student suspended for allegedly disarming a student gunman. The bottom line is that we may have to cope with some heroes and innocents becoming ensnared in the finer net we must now cast over our schools in order to keep kids safe. As parents we’re caught between safety and justice.

As a parent I seem to be spending a lot of time visiting and learning things like the stat on 160,000 kids avoiding bullies by avoiding their education. The more I read, the more I am in favor of taking danger out of the mix as quickly as possible by advocating the security blanket-approach some school districts take by suspending alleged violent offenders while details are sorted through. It’s not all that different from someone in the workplace being on “administrative leave” pending investigation of an alleged act of misconduct.

When it comes to school safety vs. justice, the reality is our kids are guilty until proven innocent in some districts, particularly where weapons are involved. While I hate that, I am having my view changed by the death of innocents in our public schools.

However, kids are dying and weapons are in the hands of students, so it’s time to err on the side of caution and go the extra miles to get convictions of brutal bullies.

Parents know how hard it is to get a straight story from a group of kids in the throes of a major meltdown. Given that realization, it’s not too hard to see how school and law enforcement officials have taken the security blanket-approach to being our kids’ parents when they are on the spot where we’re not. If a student is wrongfully taken out of school, then an apology as publicly made as the suspension, and a clean record, are in order from the school to the child.

It reminds me of being in a room full of kids at play and hearing something shatter. The kids all have the instinct to get away from the scene of the alleged crime, while as a mom my reaction is to holler, “Nobody move! Now, let’s sort this out.”

For example, in Florida, the law allows administrators to place anyone involved in such an incident on emergency suspension pending a hearing. UPI reports a 16-year-old Cypress Lake High School student in Fort Meyers, Florida, disarmed a football player on the bus ride home. The next day the school suspended him for three days.

The teen told ABC News he “wrestled a gun from a football player” during an altercation on a school bus, was suspended, and has been informed he can return to school Monday. The teen and his parents are baffled by this action, as are my own teenage sons, but I am starting to get the point.

However, when I called Cypress Lake High this morning I was told by Office Receptionist Jill Cornell, “The media is not reporting the full story in this case. The district will be putting out another release this afternoon and I think that will tell you what you need to know.”

All I know for is that news reports say a loaded .22 caliber RG-14 revolver was in the hands of one boy and then another. Under those circumstances, if it was a case of hot potato, and the police arrived and found a gun in a boy’s hands and an administrator had to make a snap decision, when in doubt take the time to sort it out.

In the case of Bailey O'Neill, who died Sunday morning, a day after he turned 12, his attackers have not been named. But according to a CBS News report, school officials were aware the alleged attacker of the boy who died had a history of bullying other children: He was suspended and subsequently returned to class.

CBS also reported, “Bailey told his mother, Jina Risoldi, that he was at recess when the boy, who was taller, challenged him to a fight. Risoldi said last month that her son declined to fight, saying he was worried about being suspended. She said a boy then pushed him from behind and he was struck in the head about five times.

"This is not a fight between two boys," Risoldi told CBS. "My son didn't fight back."

The suspension of the bully was too late to save O’Neill and Lord only knows if having that bully out of school may have saved another from a similar fate.

We couldn’t save O’Neill, and right now thousands of children are at home because they’re afraid of someone on a bus or in the school.

O’Neill suffered seizures that started nearly two weeks after being allegedly jumped by two classmates during recess at Darby Township School on Jan. 10, according to NBC News reports. The boy suffered a concussion as well as a broken nose in the fight. After the seizures began, doctors put the boy in a medically induced coma.

RELATED: The top five bullying myths

In a statement on the school’s website there is no mention of any identification or punishment of O’Neill’s attackers stating only, “The school district continues to work with local authorities in their investigation into the cause of Bailey’s death.”

What caused his death appears to be an epidemic of students who feel a kind of entitlement to vent their rage and gain their power by destroying other kids and our public schools. They may even feel a bit of untouchability.

It’s time to stop these domestic terrorists with the same level of community engagement and commitment we displayed after 911. Our children are at war and we need to break out the full arsenal of tactics to back them up.

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