Just across the border in our neighbor to the south, Chesterfield County, a potentially deadly scenario played out in a public school classroom last month.
Before anyone knew his secret, a young boy began to cry and admitted his wrongdoing. The youth, a student at New Heights Middle School in Jefferson, took a gun to school because he said he had been bullied long enough.
Because the Chesterfield County School District has a “zero tolerance” policy, the student, age 12, will be recommended for expulsion. School officials also said the allegations of bullying will also be investigated.
“I feel sorry for the kid,” said Chesterfield County Sheriff Sam Parker, ” but there are consequences for carrying a loaded handgun to school.”
According to the incident report from the Sheriff’s Office, when the student began to cry, the teacher, not knowing the problem, approached the student and a full confession followed. “The subject handed a loaded handgun with four bullets in the magazine and one in the chamber,” to his teacher, the report said.
The boy told his principal, and other authorities, that he’d been bullied by another boy at the school and he’d had enough. The student said he hoped to “scare him into not bullying him anymore,” the sheriff’s report said. The gun, according to the report, “was his mother’s handgun that he took from her drawer.”
This episode could have ended much worse.
Ironic, perhaps, that this frightening incident occurred in October — National Bullying Prevention Month.
At the same time last month, the National Education Association launched a campaign called “Bully Free: It Starts With Me,” to bring more awareness to the problem. The NEA asked educators to take a pledge to stand up for bullied pupils, and we applaud the effort and the initiative.
NEA spokeswoman Becky Pringle said about 160,000 schoolchildren stay home from school each day because of bullying. She said it’s important to do more than deal with the bully and his or her target.
“We also need to focus on the bystanders. What we find is that oftentimes the bully wants an audience. If we take that away, it does lead to that bullying behavior not being as prevalent,” she said.
The bully-free program offers resources for parents and educators to help them identify bullying, and how to intervene and be advocates for pupils. It is online at NEA.org.
Pringle said the NEA program offers the knowledge and resources to prevent bullying, so that teachers and parents can recognize the warning signs and take immediate action to show kids there is support for them.
Pringle said bullying isn’t just a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up. She said it’s a systemic problem that threatens the health and well-being of our young people.
Let’s face it: The bullying of today is not the bullying of generations ago; it’s more hateful, hurtful and toxic. And the Internet, social media sites and cell phones make it so easy to spread the poison, to access texts, photos and videos that aggravate an already festering problem.
We are encouraged by the new Bully Free program, and encourage our area educators to embrace it.
Bullying, in all its forms, needs to stop.