A week ago Tuesday morning there was an altercation on a stairwell at OPRF. One student pushed another and the second student went over a railing, falling to the landing a floor below. Thankfully for those of us who have walked those stairs, the student's injuries were less than we would have expected. No head injury. Damage to ribs and legs and then back in school the next day.
The student doing the pushing was arrested and charged with aggravated battery. He was released to his dad and has been to court once. According to Oak Park police Commander LaDon Reynolds, the state's attorney's office is considering its options going forward.
The school has issued internal consequences which Principal Nathaniel Rouse rightly wasn't sharing when we spoke on Monday afternoon.
But Rouse was straightforward in acknowledging that this was about bullying. That the student who pushed — a 15-year-old male student athlete — was the victim of the bullying and that it had been ongoing for several weeks, since homecoming weekend.
Rouse said there is "far more to the story" and "a lot of dynamics involved" that he is isn't able to go into because of confidentiality.
It is clear, though, that he is troubled by what happened, by "the code" that keeps students from coming forward to an adult in the building when they are being bullied. Students don't "snitch" when they hear things. Students being bullied don't go the adults because they don't want to be seen as "weak."
"But when you internalize everything, eventually you snap," said Rouse.
And that's what happened on that staircase. That's what makes this story so awful for teachers and staff, for parents, too.
Rouse describes the bullied young man as "a good kid who made a poor choice. He felt he had no other options."
What seemed to be on the principal's mind Monday was that this student was well connected to adults at OPRF. He wasn't one of the kids over on Scoville who sort of float through four years without ever latching on somewhere.
"There are people around this building who I know care for him," said Rouse.
He said student athletes can be "in a tough position" owing to their 24/7 Code of Conduct, which prohibits fighting, among other things. He said that once in a while another "kid might take advantage" of that conduct code.
Rouse rightly says that all schools are dealing with bullying and face incidents like this. But, he says, "We need to do more."
In a note to faculty and staff the day after the fall he wrote, "Let this serve as a reminder to all of us regarding the importance of making every effort to establish positive and meaningful relationships with our students so they are comfortable sharing with us when they are being bullied or harassed at school."
Rouse said Monday that in response to this bullying case, he has heard from faculty and staff who want to open up a much wider and more direct dialogue about bullying at OPRF. He's open to that and says the discussion needs to explore all the many disturbing forms that bullying takes in a high school in 2013.
We had talked about the cold-hearted abuse that can take place between students on social media, though he said Facebook was not part of this specific incident. While he's very concerned about the impact of social media, he also listed other forms bullying can take, including physical assault, emotional manipulation through exclusion, verbal abuse, covert sidelong glances and rolling of eyes, bad-mouthing students in class.
Rouse said that in a time when schools and teachers are so focused on test scores and academic achievement, finding ways to still "see the signs" of a kid in trouble remains essential. Time for the whole community to join in that effort.
Jean Lotus contributed reporting.
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