I have a grandchild who is counting the days until he leaves elementary school behind, largely because he’s been bullied for the last two years. Despite the Richardson Independent School District’s claim of “zero tolerance” policies for school bullies, none of the actions taken by teachers or school administrators has helped with the problem he faced.
During this school year, he’s been physically attacked (resulting in a concussion), but most of the harassment has been verbal. There seem to be three reasons that he is a target.
- He’s a boy who is more interested in the arts (performing and visual) than sports. (We live in Texas — enough said.)
- He is involved in youth circus (juggling, trapeze, silks, tight rope, etc.), and has been featured in local media (TV, newspaper, magazines) wearing circus costumes that the school bullies found “effeminate” — and he wore a sequined jacket to last year’s school talent show.
- He is a science nerd, who has won the school and placed or won at the regional science fair three years in a row.
For me, it’s been hard not to head to the school once a week or more to protest the treatment, but our grandson decided around Christmas time that he was done reporting the bullies to teachers and school administrators. He said he could “handle it himself” without resorting to fighting, and asked us not to violate his confidence by reporting new incidents. The reason for his decision was simple: one of the school administrators decided to “counsel” him on how to make himself less of a target for bullies.
While I am sure the woman meant well, her blame-the-victim approach backfired. She suggested that he cut his hair, learn to talk about things he’s not interested in (like sports), stop talking about the things he is interested in (juggling, circus, acting, science, computers, animals), and stop wearing “feminine” accessories like a simple silver chain with a Celtic rune pendant on it, or those woven friendship bracelets and plastic armbands with various slogans on them that all the kids seem to wear.
Do I need to say that I supported his decision to immediately go out and get more of the bracelets, or begin wearing T-shirts with more interesting slogans on them for “free dress day”? We did have to insist on occasional haircuts. He’s a working child actor, and there just aren’t that many parts for long-haired 12 or 13-year-old boys — and, more importantly, a knife juggler with bangs that cover his eyes doesn’t pass grandma’s “safety first” rule.
A Child’s Wisdom
My grandson publishes his own blog. (Yes, it’s his. I review before things are published, and help with grammar, questions & photos, but the opinions are his own.) I was very, very proud of the wisdom and courage he showed when he finally lost his temper with the school bullies (and the school administration).
On May 1, he published School Talent Show & Warning to Wallace’s Bullies. I have been proud of other children and grandchildren in our family, but I have seldom been prouder than I was when I read this child’s message to his tormentors. Here’s part of what he said — please read the whole article at this link.
“I almost didn’t sign up (for the school talent show) this year. After last year’s show, some kids started bullying me about the costume I wore onstage. The photo to the right was taken during last year’s talent show — a black sequined jacket over a white T-shirt and black pants. Personally, I don’t see what was wrong with my costume, and I don’t think anyone should be bullied for what they wear or how they look.
“So far, I have managed not to get into a fight over the names I’ve been called even though one of the kids who has called me the most names pushed me down in the hallway and I wound up with a concussion.
“He got a one-day suspension from school. He didn’t stop calling me names, of course. It has been hard to keep my hands (and my feet) to myself. But my karate teacher always said to keep the punches and kicks in the dojo or the competition ring, so I did. But I admit I’ve thought showing him that I may be short for my age, but all the hours I spend in the gym make me stronger than I look.
“So I decided that I was going to show off a talent that might make the bullies think twice about calling me names: knife juggling. (I thought about “spinning fire”, but figured the school would say no to that because the stage has these ancient velvet curtains around it.) I started working on my routine in August of last year, as soon as I got a new set of juggling knives from Dubé.
“From September until Christmastime, the principal of my school, Debbie Yarger, had this picture of me posted on the office door along with an article about my knife juggling in the Lake Highlands Advocate. So I wasn’t expecting any problem with the knife juggling — but the talent show sponsor sent an email to my grandmother that said, “Knives are prohibited weapons, and the Richardson Independent School District has a zero-tolerance policy for weapons brought to school.”
“I had to come up with a brand new act for the talent show in less than two weeks. I don’t think it’s fair. My knives look like machetes, but they’re juggling props.”
He included some general information on his juggling knives, noting that they are only “weapons” if you hit someone in the head with them — and they weigh less than a bottle of water or a book, neither of which is banned. Then he addressed the bullies, and the school administration directly, in the section that made me tear up with pride.
“When I perform this year, I’ll be wearing a circus costume with sequins on it while I perform. (The new act is really simple — I’m juggling balls, rings, clubs and a diabolo, and balancing a cane on my chin.)
“But, since it has sequins on it, I’m sure the school bullies will be waiting on Monday morning with more names to call me. I just hope they stick to name-calling.
“I don’t think I will just stand there and do nothing if someone touches me again. I am tired of being bullied. The last guy I punched (in a sparring match as part of a karate belt test) wound up throwing up all over the floor — and a black belt a foot taller than me wound up with some nasty bruises in the shape of my foot on his chest. I really hope it doesn’t come to that at school, but I’ve had enough of the bullies at my school.
“I can’t WAIT to get out of this school. I hate going to a school where the teachers and staff protect bullies and treat victims as if we did something wrong by not “fitting in” with the cliques that run the school. If the Richardson School District’s arts magnet middle school is no better, I am going to ask to be home schooled.
“I’ve had enough of being bullied at Wallace Elementary School. Banning my juggling knives in the name of “safety” after allowing me to be bullied and shoved and injured is just too much.”
I couldn’t agree more. A “zero tolerance” policy that prohibits a juggling prop might be defensible — but what happened to the district’s much-hyped anti-bullying “zero tolerance” policy? They say, “If he doesn’t report it, we can’t do anything.” He reported it regularly for the first half of the year — and every time, he was the one pulled out of class to be questioned in the principal’s office. When the kid who knocked him down in a school hallway got suspended, he retaliated by embellishing the story and telling everyone in the school a whole series of lies about what had really happened.
My husband is a retired school teacher, and I’ve been a PTA volunteer for many years. When school gossip is widespread, parents and teachers hear it. They can’t help it. Putting the burden of “reporting” bullying on the child being bullied — and counseling that child to try to fit in better with the groups bullying him — is not zero tolerance. It’s a way to protect the school district from litigation and parent complaints — and it perpetuates the behavior by letting the bullies get away with it.
The talent show was Friday. I’m waiting to see what the reaction of the school bullies was. Here’s a video of Kameron’s performance — including the “sequined costume” he was worried about. My fingers are crossed that he doesn’t come home bruised from a fight, but if he does, I’ve already got a parent-teacher conference scheduled for tomorrow afternoon at 2 p.m. Neither one of us is going to back down if the bullying gets physical again.