The bully effect

FI-EditorialIt took an indescribable tragedy to force Greenwich to confront the issue of bullying in schools and there have been a lot of words about how it can never be allowed to happen again. But words have to be backed up by action.

That’s why it’s good to see something to bring this dialogue out of private meetings with administrators that can easily be forgotten or hushed up. By making the discussion public and diagnosing what is causing it and what can be done about it, bullying will feel the public light and needed steps can be taken to prevent tragedies.

That kind of public dialogue is what Selectman Drew Marzullo was looking to achieve last September when he brought in bullying expert Ross Ellis to speak to the Board of Selectmen in the immediate aftermath of the suicide of 15-year-old Greenwich High School student Bart Palosz after the first day of school. And it’s what led community agencies like the YMCA and the Junior League of Greenwich to host a special documentary screening last week about bullying and follow it up with a panel discussion where the dialogue was frank, just as it needed to be.

The impact of bullying is not something that can be forgotten. It’s not something that should be easy for Greenwich and the school district to move on from. It’s good to see this kind of follow-up, especially when it’s public. But there has to be more. Any dialogue, even if it’s public and open to participation and scrutiny, is only words unless real change results from it.

We still don’t know what specifically led Bart to take his own life last year. We don’t know what had robbed him so completely of hope that after one day of school he felt he had no recourse but to do what he did. And perhaps we’ll never fully know. But there have been multiple reports, particularly from his family, of him being the victim of vicious and unyielding bullying both at GHS and at Western Middle School, where officials allegedly failed to protect him.

An internal review is ongoing, being led by Town Attorney Wayne Fox. This is not meant as a push to get him to hurry up. Any time needed to get this right needs to be taken. But we need to make sure that whatever the review finds, as bad as it might be, it receives public light and scrutiny. There are other families in town seeing their children suffer from bullying. What can be done to keep this from happening again?

It is more vital than ever that this report, whatever it might say, not end up heavily redacted or in someone’s desk drawer. And since we don’t know what will come of this review, we rely for now on programs like the one last week from the Junior League and the YMCA that advance the dialogue further and force us all to confront the fact that this is not an abstract problem. It’s something happening right here in town.

The more programs like the one we had last week, the more there will be a real conversation about what’s happening, why it’s happening and how to keep it from happening. For too long, bullying has been accepted as someone else’s problem or, perversely, a rite of passage. That’s unacceptable. All the stakeholders say it’s unacceptable. But those words must be backed up.

Putting a good spin on things and saying steps are being taken is not enough. We need to keep hearing from the parents. They are the ones who live this every day and the panelists are correct. We must hear not just from the parents of victims but from the parents of bullies as well. This is going to have to be a community-wide effort and every step taken forward is a good one, but only if that step is followed by another and another until lasting solutions are in place.

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