The perpetrators mostly targeted and attacked the girl inside a place where she should have been safe; others knew about the abuse, but did nothing, were inconsistent in their efforts, and sometimes ignored the whole thing.
A Catholic church somewhere? Another sordid tale of clergy misconduct?
No. Just scenes from an ordinary year in one of our nation's public schools:
Troublesome? Troublesome?? They're much more than that.
(CNN) -- Nine Massachusetts teenagers have been charged with involvement in a months-long campaign of bullying that led to the suicide in January of a 15-year-old girl, a prosecutor said Monday.
Phoebe Prince's body was found hanging in the stairway leading to her family's second-floor apartment in South Hadley, Northwestern District Attorney Elizabeth D. Scheibel told reporters in the western Massachusetts town of Northampton.
"It appears that Phoebe's death on January 14 followed a torturous day for her when she was subjected to verbal harassment and physical abuse," she said.
Earlier in the day, Prince had been harassed as she studied in the library at South Hadley High School, apparently in the presence of a faculty member and several students, none of whom reported it until after the death, Scheibel said.
Prince, who had recently moved to the area with her family from Ireland, was also harassed as she walked through the halls of the school that day and as she walked on the street toward her home, Scheibel said. [...]
Though initial news reports blamed Prince's suicide on cyberbullying, Scheibel said the students' actions were "primarily conducted on school grounds during school hours and while school was in session." She said any use of electronic social networks was secondary to "commonly understood bullying methods."
The bullying of Prince was common knowledge to most of the student body and to certain faculty, staff and administrators, Scheibel said. At least four students and two faculty members had intervened during the harassment, but the school's code of conduct was inconsistently enforced, she said.
Though the faculty, staff and administrators' behavior was not deemed criminal, "the actions, or inactions, of some adults at the school are troublesome," she said.
School bullying is an epidemic in America. We're not talking about mere teasing, either; we're talking about the kind of bullying that has involved physical and sexual abuse, that has sometimes gone on for years, that has left parents at a loss when dealing with uncaring school administrators and teachers who tend to shrug such things aside, and that sometimes, as in the case of this poor girl, led to the death of the victim.
Victims of the abuse of this kind of bullying who survive are walking wounded, who may need years of therapy to undo the damage caused by vicious little brutes who inflict physical, mental, and emotional pain on them for years with little or no intervention by the authority figures who have the power to stop the abuse.
In fact, it's not too much to say that our nation's public schools have an institution-wide tendency to sweep this sort of bullying under the rug, to pretend it doesn't exist, to lie about it, to act as though "diversity" seminars or similar efforts have "solved" the problem, and to tell parents who continue to complain that they are the troublemakers, that their son or daughter is just too sensitive or that he or she invites the bullying, and to suggest that the best option is for the parents to remove their child from the school, and explore other educational options.
How many children have been the victims of targeted bullying in their school careers? Numbers are hard to find, since lots of people don't like to admit to having been bullied or harassed by their peers in school. There is a tendency to think that the victim of bullying must be weak, a wimp, not strong enough to stand up for himself or herself.
How many bullies ever end up being punished in any real way for their bullying? Few, I suspect. It took Phoebe Prince's suicide before the bullies who were making her life a living hell were arrested--and while I think that was the right thing, I am stunned that the school administrators are not being held accountable for their failures here.
While most of the mainstream media is still busily trying to tie Pope Benedict XVI to abuse cases that are decades old, children are being harassed, threatened, attacked, beaten, assaulted, and otherwise mistreated every single day in America's public schools. And nobody even wants to talk about the problem. A case like this one will be seen as a horrifically sad anomaly, not a glaring indictment on the American public school system as a whole. It will be a nine-days' wonder, and then everyone will go back to talking about how evil the Catholic Church is for crimes that happened twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years ago.
Will it take fifty years for the American public school to become a safe place for parents to send their children, to know that they will not be, like Phoebe Prince was, literally bullied to death? I don't know. All I know is that somewhere in America tonight, some child, some little boy or little girl, will lie awake in the darkness of the night dreading the sunrise, because sunrise means school, and school means a catalog of horrors, again, every day, from now until what seems like forever. Maybe he or she has tried to tell Mom or Dad; maybe Mom or Dad has even seen the teacher; maybe the teacher has even talked to the class about bullying and said it won't be tolerated. But none of that matters much to the child whose stomach is in a knot of fear for those lonely, dark hours before the dawn.