Bullies charged after classmate's suicide

Nine Massachusetts teenagers face charges for bullying a 15-year-old girl who committed suicide. Two boys are accused of  statutory rape; a group of Mean Girls are charged with  stalking, criminal harassment and violating the victim’s civil rights.

Insults and threats followed 15-year-old Phoebe Prince almost from her first day at South Hadley High School, targeting the Irish immigrant in the halls, library and in vicious cell phone text messages.

Phoebe, ostracized for having a brief relationship with a popular boy, reached her breaking point and hanged herself after one particularly hellish day in January — a day that, according to officials, included being hounded with slurs and pelted with a beverage container as she walked home from school.

Phoebe’s mother had complained to school officials about the bullying to no avail.

In Massachusetts, public anger was turning from the Mean Girls  — so mean they left vicious comments on Phoebe’s Facebook memorial page — to the teachers who repeatedly failed to protect Phoebe, but were not charged criminally.

District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel said Phoebe’s persecution was “common knowledge” at the school, and even witnessed by teachers, who said nothing.

South Hadley parents have formed an anti-bullying group. Massachusetts is considering an anti-bullying law.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. Richard Nieporent says:

    Massachusetts is considering an anti-bullying law.

    What would be the purpose of passing a law against bullying? Are these teachers so brain dead that they need a special law against bullying to know that what the students were doing was wrong? Do we need a zero tolerance law against bullying before the teachers are willing to act? The teachers saw what was going on and did nothing about it. Why? How difficult would it have been to tell the students in no uncertain terms that their behavior was unacceptable and have them suspended if they continued doing it?

  2. Cranberry says:

    The Boston Globe has more: http://www.boston.com/news/education/k_12/articles/2010/03/31/anger_turns_toward_school_staff_in_bullying_case/?rss_id=Boston.com+–+Education+news

    Apparently, many states have laws mandating the reporting of bullying. Massachusetts does not. It is one of only 9 states which lack anti-bullying statues. http://www.bullypolice.org/

    I don’t think anyone outside of the school system could explain why the administration did not act. They allegedly lied to the press when they claimed the family had never alerted them to the bullying. According to press reports, many other families have come forward to state that their children had been severely bullied, and that the administration had taken no action.

    More details on the charges, and what the bullies are alleged to have been doing: http://www.boston.com/community/moms/articles/2010/03/30/da_charges_9_teens_faults_school_officials_in_s_hadley_bullying_case/.

  3. “Massachusetts is considering an anti-bullying law.”

    That would be subsidized homeschooling.

    Clive Harber
    “Schooling as Violence”
    Educatioinal Review, p. 9 V. 54, #1.
    “Furthermore, according to a report for UNESCO, cited in Esteve (2000), the increasing level of pupil-teacher and pupil-pupil violence in classrooms is directly connected with compulsory schooling. The report argues that institutional violence against pupils who are obliged to attend daily at an educational centre until 16 or 18 years of age increases the frustration of these students to a level where they externalise it.”

  4. In third grade, the group of ‘mean girls’ in my daughter’s class targeted her for bullying – it was physical abuse and mental abuse (in THIRD GRADE!). I met with her teachers, the vice-principal and the principal about the bullying – but to no avail. We pulled her out of government school and began homeschooling her. She graduates this year – a year early – with her life and self-esteem intact. She has an excellent, supportive group of friends and is very active socially, although she still remembers the abuse and the fear she lived under every day she attended public school.

  5. I had a similar experience as Kathy F. My daughter became the target of a group of mean girls. The school did do some intervention and some counseling, however the bullying continued. I worked at the school and witnessed it first-hand. I knew the parents of the girls and even spoke to them. Still, the bullying continued. We ended up pulling my daughter out of the school and homeschooling her as well. She’s now in 6th grade and enjoys a wider variety of friends through the homeschooling community and a much higher level of self-esteem and much less stress.

  6. Institutions with this type of closed social structure seem to breed bullying. I do wonder why any parent would allow their child to attend a school that passively accepts this type of behavior. For the victims, there seems to be only two ways out of this situation. Get the bully alone and beat the ever-lovin tar our of them (my solution as a kid), or homeschool.

  7. Richard Aubrey says:

    While I think it’s a good idea to think about figuring out ways to build strength and autonomy into kids so this sort of bullying won’t bother them, there are limits. Someplace.
    I’d be more interested in how the girl bullies came to be like that.
    My son played three sports from eighth grade through high school. Two were football and basketball which meant the banquet included the cheerleaders. Without fail, the cheerleader coach(es) remarked on the fact that the girls didn’t form cliques. That was eight banquets over the years and eight remarks on non-cliquish behavior. From which I deduced that, if the coach(es) thought it remarkable, it must be rare. Not, it would seem, at our school, but in their wider experience and expectation.
    I’d be really interested in why the girl bullies got to be like that.
    Or is it really just “girl drama” about which nothing need be done?

  8. Margo/Mom says:

    I don’t know if I can express clearly enough what exactly I am thinking about the issue of bullying, and why it persists under the noses of adults who do little either in response, or heaven forbid, to prevent such behavior. We seem to think of bullying as an individual behavior–and prescribe individual sanctions (suspensions, expulsions) for it. I would suggest that it is not an individual behavior, but rather a social/cultural one, and one which is part and parcel of the school/community culture in which it occurs.

    I have just finished reading the 60 odd comments on another thread here–one that concerns a second grader, whose “problem” is that he “belongs” in a small special needs classroom, but is instead misplaced in a “regular” classroom. These are the nice and polite terms. There are others–idiot, for instance; along with assumptions that the child is dangerous to all others around him and the implicit belief that he is nothing but a drag on society, and this is all he will ever be. In short–only others “like” him should ever be cursed with his society. Oddly–in all of the verbiage, no one has ever touched on why he is as he is described (someone who pounds on his desk when frustrated, and yells out inappropriately–although he seems to be amenable to friendly reminders from a student “buddy”–which really has folks up in arms).

    Now, to me, this is institutionalized bullying. Particularly so when I read the suggestions that if this teacher continues to be forced to have this child in her classroom she should undertake a regimen of regularly sending him out–until she can wear down the oppostion. Bullying is about creating an “out” group or individual who is targetted for repeated and ongoing reminders that they are not a part of the social group–and undeserving of any regular codes that govern the behavior of that group.

    It happens that I am particularly sensitive to the social exclusion of students with disabilities, but there are other groups also regularly targetted. Students who are gay, or suspected of being gay, are not only regular targets within schools, but there is organized resistence to the notion that this should not be the case. Various ethnic groups may be targetted at times–depending on who is newer, or less powerful, or smaller in number. When Mr. Aubrey recounts a coach commending cheerleaders on not being cliquish, I find myself wondering–is this true, or is he deluded as so many are by wanting to believe that we are better than we are?

  9. To put it bluntly, Margo/Mom, you have reversed cause and effect.

  10. Paul Hoss says:

    I talked with my class every year about bullying, at length. We discussed why this occurred, the likely predators and prey, methods to combat it, report it, etc., etc. The message I tried to convey to my class every year was that often the bullies did this because they were insecure about themselves, and making someone else feel bad or worse by tormenting them was simply a strategy they employed to make themselves feel better, more secure. And that sadly this was done at the expense of injuring someone else’s feelings. The message seemed to have an impact on all kids.

  11. Richard Aubrey says:

    Margo.
    Your last sentence: Who’s better than whom? Is cliquiness a myth?
    How does a delusion of some person being better than he is–or not as good as he is–manifest itself in cheerleader coach(es) remarks?
    If cliquiness exists, then mean-girl bullying might be an exaggerated manifestation of it.
    Or perhaps it’s something else.
    What made these girls such vile creatures?
    There’s always the “green monkey”, including the possibility that some people need to have one so badly that they make one up.

  12. Not only would I pull my child out of a school where they were bullied without relief, I’d pull out a child of mine who bullied other children. I’d move. I would do whatever it took. I would not let my child degrade themselves with such behavior. I wonder about the parents.

    Bullying is low class behavior and should be treated as the serious character flaw it is. My poor child would be put on a program of learning empathy and compassion for other human beings.

  13. Just yesterday, my friend was telling me a story about her daughter being harassed by some mean girls. When she brought a recent incident to the attention of the school administration, the principal told her, they prefer to “let the students work these things out themselves”.

    This particular MIDDLE school has had 11 young girls commit suicide in the last 7 or 8 years, 4 in one year. You’d think the principal would be just a little more sensitive.

  14. Sorry Cassyt but you’re missing the obvious; the principal courts little danger by abdicating any moral responsibility to “let the students work these things out themselves” but does court significant dangers by intruding. The safe course is to ignore the problem since dealing with it isn’t mandatory and there’s no benefit to the administration commensurate with the possible negative consequences.

    That’s a systemic shortcoming and can only be remedied, system-wide, by a systemic solution.

  15. Cranberry says:

    So often, the mean girl bullies have very connected parents.

  16. Richard Aubrey says:

    Cranberry,
    For some reason unknown to the social scientists, butthead kids frequently have butthead parents who are willing to shell out for a lawyer to argue that their kids’ buttheadedness ought to be allowed.
    A real puzzlement. We need more social scientists.
    BTW, does “working it out” mean punching the perp until he or she is bloody and wailing for help? IOW, the only thing that works.

  17. Elizabeth says:

    What I see are schools implementing anti-bullying programs, but teachers telling kids that ponit out problems as “tattling”. Kind of negates the whole point of these programs. In most workplaces nowdays, bad behavior or even iffy behavior is swiftly punished. Only in schools is it still allowed.

  18. Anytime when any a kid assaults another kid it is BULLING!!! Where were the grown ups in charge when these crimes are committed? No one is allowed to spit, kick, hit or verbally berate fellow students. There it is in writing. Now, do your job school officials. Make a big deal out of the Bully; show them their crap will not be tolerated anymore!

  19. As the mother of two boys, I’ve noticed that teachers and administrators are swift to punish boy bad behaviors – behaviors which are usually physical and obvious. But girls, even at very young ages, are much more sophisticated and devious, it seems, about their bad behaviors and often get away with their bullying. One of my sons told me about boys who would do something in class, get in trouble, while a girl would do the exact same thing and either be ignored by the teacher or get off with a simple warning.

    Sad to say, I think this contributes to the mean girls getting away with even worse behavior as they enter middle and high school.

  20. I’d go even further, Julie; normal boy behavior is often regarded as inherently unacceptable, even pathological (ADHD, needing medication). I really don’t think that many ES teachers really like boys, or non-girly girls, very well.

    I think that there are related factors in bullying, too. As a recent post on this site mentioned, lots of kids are not accustomed to playing well with other kids, in the absence of close adult supervision. Also, there are more kids who are different, or perceived as vulnerable, in the schools than was formerly the case. At the same time, there are more kids who are inadequately socialized, disciplined or who have not learned self-control.

  21. Dennis Fermoyle says:

    Good teachers and good administrators MIGHT have been able to deal with this situation and put a stop to it. I am not familiar with the people or the school in this situation, so I’m not going to make judgments about the people involved, and nobody else should either until they know more. Public schools have a major problem when it comes to something like this. The Supreme Court, in its most activist phase, decided that education is a “property right” that can’t be taken away without due process of law. They also decided that if a school official disciplines a student–even one who is thoroughly rotten–and some judge decides for whatever reason that the discipline was unreasonable, that school official can be sued. As a result, we have a lot of public school principals who are very cautious about disciplining kids, and a lot of teachers who don’t act when they should. Since about the only discipline the teacher can give is to yell at the obnoxious student, or maybe give detention, they know that if they send it to the principal nothing meaningful will happen. Therefore they put up with a lot of crap that they shouldn’t. If they see it, good teachers will probably do something about bullying, and good principals will probably take meaningful action against the bullies. But as long as we view education as a “property right,” we are going to be hearing about these kinds of tragedies.

  22. Best advice I ever got re: bullying (which we dealt with successfully when our son was in 2nd grade) came from the mother of a boy with severe ADHD who was being tormented by the other kids when he was in Kindergarten and, I think, 1st grade. Her son had some learning problems and wasn’t good with language, so the other kids would call him “faggot” and so on until he finally exploded and hit one of them — at which point he would get in trouble for hitting. Meanwhile the other children never got in trouble for calling names.

    Finally his mom, who was the daughter of a cop, told her son: “The next time someone calls you a name, I want you to say, ‘I have a green belt in karate. If you ever call me that again I am going to kick the cr** out of you and I’m going to do it off school property.’ Then I want you to kick the cr** out of him if he ever calls you a name again, and I want you to do it off school property.”

    Then she had him memorize the speech and practice it until he could say it by heart.

    And that was it.

    He was never bullied again.

    I think the “off school property” bit was especially brilliant. This is a tiny little town, and those were tiny little kids, so for them the concept that the whole village suddenly became a place where a boy with a green belt in karate might pop up out of nowhere must have been really scary.

    Appropriately scary.

  23. The book we used to solve our bullying problem: Good Friends Are Hard to Find: Help Your Child Find, Make, and Keep Friends by Fred Frankel. Frankel has chapters on what to do when your child is being bullied **and** when your child is the bully.

    Frankel’s book is incredible. From it I learned two typical qualities of children who are bullied: a) they give the bullies a big bang for their buck (they cry easily) and b) they are compliant to other children (if the bully says ‘give me your lunch money,’ the victim obeys).

    Once you know these two behaviors, you can easily explain them to your child and your child can stop doing them (or do something else instead). Our son’s problem, which had been going on for many months, was resolved within a weeks.

    Three years later, I was able to use Frankel’s book to diagnose the problem of another little boy we knew who was being bullied. At first, I didn’t understand why he would be chosen as a victim. He didn’t cry easily, and he wasn’t compliant to other children. Then I realized what he was doing: he was running away. That gave the bullies a huge bang for the buck. All they had to do was look menacing and the chase was on. Very exciting.

    I told his mom to tell her son to stand his ground, or even to lean into the bullies’ space.

    It worked. The bullying stopped.

    Both of these situations involved grade school boys, obviously. I have a memory that Frankel says dealing with a situation in which your child is the target of gossip is more difficult, but I’ll have to check.

  24. Marjorie Chin says:

    I was born in Massachusetts, I lived in Massachusetts for 30 years before moving away and I have never heard, read, or fathomed anything like this bullying case of Phoebe Prince. Who gave these bullying teenagers the right to do this. I am not saying Massachusetts is the only state that has bullying issues either. This could have happened anywhere in the US.

    I was bullied as a child too living in Dorchester, MA. Guess what, nothing was done then either. My angel was an older female neighbor who sort of protected me from some of the bullying. The “person” who bullied me was a white child and I am Chinese. Well, there you go! Anyway, I got through it and now I am ok and passed all that.

    This bullying has to stop and texting and GPS is making this bullying easier.

    I hope the teenagers who bullied Phoebe really get what they deserve. Actually I just heard on the Today show that some of the bullies are being bullied themselves.

    Here’s what Bill Cosby said of late:

    8). Crime — We will adopt the Turkish method, i.e., the first
    > time you steal, you lose your right hand. There is no more ‘life
    > sentences’. If convicted of murder, you will be put to death by the
    > same method you chose for the victim you killed: gun, knife,
    > strangulation, etc.

    Phoebe Prince, you can rest in peace because I heard you will be laid to rest in your hometown in Ireland. You must have been a nice quiet person. The bullies cannot harm you now.

    REST IN PEACE, SWEET GIRL.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by JoanneLeeJacobs. JoanneLeeJacobs said: New blog post: Bullies charged after classmate's suicide http://www.joannejacobs.com/2010/03/bullies-charged-after-classmates-suicide/ [...]

  2. [...] Bullies Charged After Classmate’s Suicide « Joanne JacobsNine Massachusetts teenagers face charges for bullying a 15-year-old girl who committed suicide. Two boys are accused of statutory rape; a group of Mean Girls are charged with stalking, criminal harassment and violating the victim's ……[Read More] [...]

  3. [...] Bullies charged after classmate’s suicide « Joanne Jacobs [...]

  4. [...] Bullies charged after classmate’s suicide « Joanne Jacobs [...]

  5. [...] Bullies charged after classmate’s suicide « Joanne Jacobs [...]

  6. [...] Bullies charged after classmate’s suicide « Joanne Jacobs [...]

  7. [...] Bullies charged after classmate’s suicide « Joanne Jacobs [...]

  8. [...] Bullies charged after classmate’s suicide « Joanne Jacobs [...]

  9. [...] Bullies charged after classmate’s suicide « Joanne Jacobs [...]