The MLO Minute: By Heather Hulse, JD, MS, MA
Twenty-one years ago this April marks the anniversary of one of the worst days in educational history. Two seniors shot and killed twelve of their schoolmates and one of their teachers, injured twenty-three others, and attempted to bomb the school, which would have most certainly increased the death toll into the hundreds had it successfully exploded. Many people remember this day as the first school shooting in America. It was not the first, but it was the first that given was significant media attention. It certainly took the nation by surprise. In fact, it took the police forty-seven minutes to enter the building after the gunfire erupted, as they simply had no idea what to expect.
While law enforcement has learned much from that day, our school systems do not appear to have learned everything about how to prevent such tragedies. There is no doubt that schools are on higher alert to possible threats of violence, which absolutely helps prevent potential shootings. However, we are not doing everything we can. Learning about the Columbine shooters, who have become the “profile” of future school shooters, can help us to not repeat history.
To be clear, there are many contributing factors as to why the Columbine shooters did what they did, and we must all learn from them. There is no denying that bullying was a contributing factor, as there is evidence that the Columbine shooters were bullied for years. Students accounted how they were harshly bullied, including being called homophobic insults and a cup of fecal matter thrown on them. Accounts from students, parents, and school personnel revealed that bullying was frequent at Columbine High School but was not adequately addressed.
One of the most frustrating responses from school districts to reported bullying we hear on a regular basis is “we can’t prove the bullying since no one saw or heard it and there is no video evidence.” Forgive me, but that is too often not an adequate or accurate response! If a student reports bullying, it should be taken at face value unless and until there is some valid reason to believe otherwise. Bullying happens most frequently on buses, hallways, cafeterias, and other less structured environments. Of course, it may not frequently occur right in front of adults. What happens when school districts fail to take the report at face value and, therefore fail to address the bullying, is the bullied student feels completely helpless. Students have been told to report bullying, which is often difficult for them to do. Then, when they do, they are told nothing can be done about it because they don’t have “evidence”…that their word is not enough. However, research regarding the making of school shooters reflects that they were often students who needed help but didn’t get it. They were often not students who woke up one day and decided to shoot up their schools. It happened over time. While most students who are bullied do not become school shooters or are even physically aggressive, at the same time, school shooters are far too often students who have been bullied and nothing or very little was done to address the bullying. The point of this article is to discuss the ways that schools can learn from this information and appropriately address any and all bullying that has been reported.
It is imperative that schools listen to and take seriously students who report bullying. It can change the entire trajectory of a student’s life. Schools need to review their bullying policies to ensure that students who report that they are victims of bullying are being heard, respected, and protected. Students all need to know that their school is not going to allow bullying to continue.
Parents of special education students should seek legal consultation, which our office offers at no cost to families. If they believe their child has been bullied and their school district or charter school is failing to appropriately address the bullying, we are here to help. Click here to Contact Us Today!