Thursday, May 5, 2016

In Response to the Comments on Zach's Post

I had really hoped that the bullying issue had been put to rest, but today, a friend called my attention to a number of mean-spirited comments on the Thank You post my son, Zach, wrote.  You all, this is so discouraging.  Zach was finally feeling better about school.  The in-school bullying had decreased.  I was happy with the progress that had been made.

Then I read the comments on Zach's post, and I see that nothing has really changed.  The bullying has just moved to a different place.  The posts (which seem to be both by adults and students) show an ingrained system of behavior.  This is the problem with the school.  As I mentioned in a previous post, several people who used to attend this school wrote and told me that kids who are bullied at this school are actively pressured not to say anything.  The comments on Zach's post show that this is the case.  The comments on Zach's post alone would be enough for a public school to take action.  I don't understand why the same isn't true at a private school.

While I'm not going to address each comment that was made (obviously that would be counter-productive, you can't change a bully's perspective), I do want to address a few patterns that I see repeating in the comments because this is typical bullying behavior.

First, all but 1 negative comment were written on a blog post that my 13-year-old son wrote thanking everyone for their support and saying that God is with us, even when it seems as if He isn't. It's one thing to respond negatively to me.  I'm 45 years old.  I really don't care what a bunch of kids and school administrators think of me.  I've been through worse.  You don't like me?  Big deal.  I think I'll find a way to cope.

It's a completely different story to gang up on a young boy who's already said he is being bullied (yet again) and trash him on the Internet.  What you're doing here, is exactly what's been going on at school. That's why I didn't just go in and delete all of the comments.  Because they are proof of what's been happening to Zach all year.  (That's also why I have hard copies and screen shots.)

The school's headmaster sent me the school's definition of bullying.  I'm going to quote it here:
  • 1) Harm -- Someone gets hurt physically, socially or emotionally.
  • 2) Unfair Match -- One person or group does not have the physical, verbal or social skills to contest the other person or group.
  • 3) Repeated -- The harm or unfair match has happened repeatedly over time. 

I actually agree with this definition of bullying.  I'm now going to explain how the comments directed toward/about my son fit this definition.

  • 1) Harm -- When you're 13 and a group of your peers post comments about you online (especially when you were just trying to do something nice and thank people who supported you) it hurts emotionally and socially.  
  • 2) Unfair Match -- This one should be obvious.  One 13-year-old against several kids and some who might be adults is an unfair match.  One against a group is unfair. (Especially when the group engages in "victim blaming" which I'll get into later.) 
  • 3) Repeated -- This is the type of thing that has been happening to Zach all year.  People telling him he's irritating, that the best part of the year was when he wasn't in school, writing Zach=Retarded on the board (especially hurtful if you, like Zach, have an autistic and developmentally delayed sister.  We hate the "R" word at our house because we know how dehumanizing it is.)  By the way, we first reported this behavior to the school in the fall.  It's now May.  I'd say that qualifies as repeated.  

Second, I see a pattern of victim blaming in the comments.  A lot of the comments read something along the lines of: Zach is irritating.  It's his fault that we're treating him this way.  Hmm, that's a familiar refrain in our society.  Rape trials: She was asking for it because of the way she dressed.  Racism: A black man shouldn't be walking in this neighborhood at night.  What else does he expect? Spousal abuse: She should have kept her mouth shut.  If she didn't irritate him, he wouldn't have had to hit her.  Notice a pattern?

If I'm reading the comments correctly, Zach's crimes lie in: 1) being irritating, 2) yelling "Get in my belly", 3) posting memes on the Schoology site.  (BTW-I already dealt with Zach on this one.  As any good parent will do when their child does something they shouldn't--i.e.--bullying another child.)

Here's a solution to the above issues: TELL THE TEACHERS!!  I have no problem with the school making my son follow the rules. In fact, I will help them do this.

However, I don't think anything in his behavior makes it OK for the students at Covington Latin to call him Retarded, hit the desk and yell, "Shit" when they find out he's in their group, tell other kids that they (the bullies) feel sorry for them when Zach sits down next to them.  These are just a few examples.  Not even the physical ones where he was pushed to the ground.  Or where, yes, he was hit in the face by a different student.  (Yes, I know about the bicycle tire in class.  That's not what I've been talking about.)

Next, to those who say Zach isn't being bullied and/or that there isn't a bullying problem at the school: You're doing it now.  Ask someone who hasn't experienced racism if the United States has a problem with racism.  Often, they'll say "No."  Same thing with bullying.  Just because you haven't witnessed/experienced it doesn't mean it isn't there.

Finally, to address the question of why I'm trying to change the school.  Well, read the comments.  That's why.  They are evidence of a systemic problem in Covington Latin.  If you don't understand what I'm talking about, you might want to take a step back (especially if you're a parent and think it's okay to condemn a 13-year-old child) and ask yourself if you're part of the problem.

It's not like I'm asking the school to lower the entrance exam requirements, or dumb down the classes.  I'm asking the school to take bullying seriously.  I'm asking them to do something about it.  Just because you aren't being bullied or because you personally don't witness the bullying doesn't mean it's not happening.

After all, if you want to know why Covington Latin High School in Kentucky needs an anti-bullying policy, just read the comments on Zach's post (that is if the authors don't go back and delete them after reading this.)

BTW-I'm disabling the comments.  My son's been through enough because of this school.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Zach's Thank You Post

First off, I want to thank you all. People often think: Oh, my voice will not make a difference, I’m only one person.  They’re wrong.

I looked through each and every one of your posts.  Not only was it comforting to know that my parents weren’t the only ones who had my back, it was even more comforting to see that people I didn’t even know were writing supportive comments.

It’s easy to forget how much YOU matter. One person can make a difference.  As many of you are aware, Thursday night was a difficult night, but once I heard what my mom had done I immediately felt better.  Over the next few days I continued to read the comments, and it helped! I didn't feel alone.

I really appreciate all of the nice & supportive message I received,  Many of you told me to trust God.  I want to remind you all that If you are struggling, ask God to help you through it, and He will.  Even if it seems like He is not there He is.  He used all of you to help me even when I felt alone.  .   

Bullying is very hurtful.  It can make people feel many things.  People (myself included) can experience suicidal thoughts, anxiety, and depression.  These feelings are important, and should be taken seriously.  

If you, or anyone you know, are being bullied, tell an adult you trust.  My parents were very understanding, and most likely yours will be too. Also, you need to know that there's nothing wrong with you. The problem is with the bullies. Not with you.  We should all be able to be ourselves, but bullies just want us to be exactly like them. Don't lose who you are.

Thank you all for helping me through this difficult time.  

-Zach Knipper