Bullying leads to fall at OPRF

Opinion: Crime

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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.

Reader Comments

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OP Res 253 from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: November 7th, 2013 2:24 PM

Sorry, Dad, I was busy being around and paying attention so my cherubs have lifetimes of doing no wrong. Thanks for the recipe, can't wait to see it work! Yes, I speak for all of motherhood. I represent an intellectually and emotionally superior uber race that can make babies, multitask, divine the exact location of the mayo, bring home the bacon, do the thing with the pan...and yet, still sometimes our "kids are kids". And I judge your secret sauce strategy to be quite underwhelming.

OP Dad  

Posted: November 2nd, 2013 10:57 PM

" I can assure you motherhood renders no such puffed chest..." Do you speak for all mothers, or just yourself? Trying to make a distinction between motherhood and fatherhood? On the topic of being "humble", maybe you should check YOUR hubris.

OP Dad  

Posted: November 2nd, 2013 10:52 PM

OP Res 253, this is not about chest puffing, it's just common sense and teaching respect. I don't claim to be a perfect parent, and I don't expect my kid to be perfect either, "despite their upbringing". The problem is, people often take the attitude, "kids will be kids", as an excuse to excuse the actions of their children, and their lack of "parenting". I may not be perfect, but I try to raise mine... I only hope that yours can benefit from some positive guidance "despite their upbringing".

Neighbor from Oak Park  

Posted: November 2nd, 2013 1:46 PM

Well said, OP Res 253.

Been There from Oak Park  

Posted: November 2nd, 2013 9:17 AM

The only way to resolve this is for the parents of these kids to connect directly, before it gets even more out of hand. The school will be of no help to them, and will legally turtle up while referring both parties to OP Police dept..

OP Res 253 from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: November 2nd, 2013 7:50 AM

OP Dad, I don't know if your hubris extends to all aspects of your life or just fatherhood. I can assure you motherhood renders no such puffed chest "I got this" surety! My daughters are small, and sweet. But they are of their own mind and personalities. And often immature ones, because they are children. Surely we can damage children, but even with attention and support, they will disappoint and surprise. And often amaze. I hope yours are humble despite their upbringing.

OP Dad  

Posted: November 1st, 2013 11:07 PM

It could be as simple as a parent not being around enough, or not giving their kid enough attention, to guide them on a positive path... And yeah, "Wow if right", they are worse parents for it. IF you're going to have kids, spend time with them, teach them about respect, give them high self-esteem, so they won't choose to be cowards and lash out at others to make themselves feel big. IF you can't do these things, you shouldn't have kids in the first place. The truth is obviously tough for some.

OP Dad  

Posted: November 1st, 2013 11:00 PM

I've seen parents who bully their kids, and guess what? The kids become bullies. I've seen parents turn a blind eye to their boy pushing around another boy, because to them, "boys with be boys". I've seen parents that "mistake" psychological bullying as "competitive spirit" in sports. A lot of the time parents will subtly program certain beliefs and acceptances into their kids through their own actions, without knowing that those actions get externalized in the form of bullying by their kids.

OP dad  

Posted: November 1st, 2013 10:55 PM

Wow is right, It's a parent's responsibility to actively raise their child to not become bullies. Some don't realize that their actions (or inactions) towards their kids foster bully behavior. Being a bully isn't a product of immaturity, it's a product of being raised with certain social values (or lack there of), so save the "ignorant" label for yourself. Just because you don't know your kids a bully, doesn't mean you didn't foster that in them.

Wow is right  

Posted: November 1st, 2013 11:08 AM

Op Dad, there are parents on this message board right now who are unaware that their kids are bullying other kids. Stating that bullies are brought up by bad parents is ignorant. Almost everyone on here has bullied someone in some shape or form before even if it was just a younger sibling. There is no prevailing description of this super bully monster for life that we can all identify. Even bullies are often kids who just haven't matured yet.

Uncommon Sense  

Posted: November 1st, 2013 9:51 AM

Fighting back is the only way to stop a bully. You may even get your butt kicked, but once you swing on a bully, they usually won't bother you anymore and move on to more attractive targets who won't fight back. Classic revenge on bully video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dybka5u0w1E

Parent  

Posted: November 1st, 2013 8:35 AM

I have long been concerned that the "code of conduct" is really a code of punishments (often for vaguely defined infractions). Nothing will solve all problems, but a good first step would be to develop a real code of conduct - one that speaks to what is expected of students and staff. Don't get rid of punishments, but spend some time fostering the positive behaviors.

Op Dad  

Posted: November 1st, 2013 4:05 AM

What the shows is that there are limitations in what a school can do to keep your kids safe from other kids. Bullies are brought up by bad parents, and that's not going to change. Don't wait for the school to help, which may or may not happen, but prepare your kid for dealing with predators and violence. It's the only way to ensure that your kid is going to have a fighting chance. Take them to a boxing or Muay Thai gym, a BJJ school, MMA etc... Anywhere they have to confront violence safely.

Concerned Parent  

Posted: October 31st, 2013 8:57 AM

I've seen the meanness that some kids direct at others since the start of elementary. Many parents seem to have no idea what their kids do. Some (not all) teachers and even administrators form biases and assume certain kids are always innocent. Some kids are clever at playing this game and wait till outside class to deliver their abuse in the hallways. I encourage an open mind toward all individual kids. Sometimes a situation is not what it appears at first.

Linus  

Posted: October 31st, 2013 8:30 AM

Both kids bear some responsiblity in this situation. There is no innocent party. Also, the school is now on the hook. What is the "code" anyway? From an outside point-of-view it sounds fishy.

OP Dad  

Posted: October 31st, 2013 12:00 AM

Joe from SOP, I couldn't agree more. It's absolutely ridiculous that the wrong person might get punished. Institutions create this type of bureaucracy, and then follow it to the T, without consideration of the situations. It certainly makes life easy for them, and gives children the idea that standing up for themselves will only get them in trouble. I'm going to teach my kid to kick like a mule with Mauy Thai, and more importantly, that it's ok to fight back when it's called for.

OP Dad  

Posted: October 30th, 2013 11:54 PM

Real confidence to stand up to bullies does not come about by merely standing up tall and pretending they don't scare you, but by knowing that if things did get physical, you'd be able to take care of yourself. That's why the US can be assertive to the rest of the world, because it has the nukes and the military might to back up it's mouth. And we all know that we're not afraid to bomb other countries. Question to the kid is, what's backing up YOUR assertiveness?

joe from south oak park  

Posted: October 30th, 2013 11:48 PM

i completely agree op dad. I'm also glad that the article brings up the fact that students use the code of conduct against athletes. Making things worse, instead of punishing a known aggressor schools punish children who simply defend themselves. Polices where all parties in a fight are punished only serve to embolden bullies and deter students that are trying to do the right thing.

OP Dad  

Posted: October 30th, 2013 11:48 PM

Barb, have a look at the assault on the clip below, and tell me how this non-violent method you speak of can deal with it. Then watch the rest of the video, and tell me if you or anyone else can offer a better alternative. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y8isR_Y-kfk

OP Dad  

Posted: October 30th, 2013 11:29 PM

Barb, I'm all for non-violent ways to deal with bullying, but when the bullying is happening in the moment, you have to deal with it in a way that is appropriate to the situation. The good thing about the Gracie Bully Proof program is that is prepare a child mentally and physically, with the physical being the last resort. You should have the option of a physical response, because words don't always work when someone is getting bullied. There is a time for words and physical defense.

parent  

Posted: October 30th, 2013 9:20 PM

I recently called the school concerned about a conflict situation between my student and a teacher. Zero ability to reach my student's counselor. I finally was connected with my student's discipline dean. This person listened to my concern and told me I should talk to the counselor, but to "keep him in the loop". So much for the HS being proactive. Maybe part of the reason students don't seek help is because they already know about the lack of response.

Barb from Oak Park  

Posted: October 30th, 2013 8:24 PM

As part of a comprehensive social-emotional learning program, students can learn how to stand up to bullies in a non-violent manner. This is best incorporated into the school curriculum as required in the Illinois Learning Standards. http://familybridgeschicago.org/our-services/schools/

OP Dad  

Posted: October 30th, 2013 3:08 PM

Good for the student who stood up for himself! Bullies target people who they feel are vulnerable in some way, and there's usually a group to back him or her up. They do not expect them to fight back, or win if they do, which is why they pick on the perceived weak in the first place. They are cowards. I'm glad this kid stood up for himself. I hope more kids will stand up for themselves, and take appropriate measures. I recommend the very good Gracie Jiujitsu "Bully Proof" program.

joe from south oak park  

Posted: October 30th, 2013 1:17 PM

I know that DADT is out of the military; but now it's in the school? I'm confused :)

Blaming the victim?  

Posted: October 30th, 2013 1:02 PM

Hopefully the police and state's attorney get involved with charges against the bully, too, if the student who did the pushing is being charged and forced into court. The school is also on the hook here for failing to act to prevent the bullying. I smell a lawsuit. And kudos to this student for self-defense. There's always a price to pay, but standing up for yourself is something to be proud of.

ava from Oak Park  

Posted: October 30th, 2013 12:49 PM

What if OPRF taught the kids that their "don't ask, don't tell" code is the real problem? Better yet, what if kids had enough of a relationship with their parents that they go to them with their troubles. My son was being harassed at OPRF. He reluctantly shared the situation. I called the school and they shut it down, immediately. Is my son the most popular student there? No, but he's there for an education and he's back to getting just that and without the physical harassment.

Life Lessons from Oak Park  

Posted: October 30th, 2013 11:58 AM

No need to push the bully over the railing and risk killing him. A simple punch to the gut or nose will do. Too bad kids get arrested nowadays if they fight back physically against bullies.

Wow is right  

Posted: October 29th, 2013 8:49 PM

I'm sorry, I don't understand how the fact the bully probably won't mess with this kid again is sad. While I agree that the kid falling over a railing was obviously excessive and it needs to be addressed...I remember when it was good to stand up to a bully and they left you alone. What is the incentive to just tell adults to handle it but never come up with the courage to confront the bully? That's why telling doesn't work much because it highlights the fact that you are afraid and intimidated.

Clancy  

Posted: October 29th, 2013 6:44 PM

From what I understand, this was not a fall, it was a push. I don't know about the bullying aspects but it was the push that led to a fall. No need to sugarcoat it. Bullying in all forms is common at OPRF. If this child "snapped" I am just relieved he didn't do so with a firearm.

Wow  

Posted: October 29th, 2013 4:36 PM

Let's face it, school admins can talk to these kids all they want and it will not deter the vast majority of the bullying that goes on. However, the sad fact is that this bully will probably not mess with the kid again after being knocked over a railing and breaking a few ribs.

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