'Bully List' Irks Parent When Her Son Makes the Top 6
Teachers at Wire Village School in Spencer, Mass., asked students to make a list of the school's biggest bullies.
Danielle Gebo complained when Tom, her 11-year-old son, was suspended from recess for not only making the list, but ranking in the top six.
And now Ralph Hicks, superintendent of the Spencer-East Brookfield Regional School District, located about 80 miles east of Boston, is feeling picked on.
After Gebo complained, Hicks did some checking. He found out school administrators violated Goss vs. Lopez, a 1975 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found public school districts must conduct hearings before students are suspended.
It's a matter of due process under the 14th Amendment.
"I had no choice but to stop the punishment," Hicks tells ParentDish.
That was that. Or so he thought.
Hicks tells ParentDish he thought Gebo left his office early last week satisfied that justice was served. Then came the calls from CNN, Fox News and other news agencies.
Hicks says he doesn't quite understand the furor.
"I characterize this as a tempest in a teapot," he says.
Contrary to reports on Fox News, he adds, none of the other parents of the alleged bullies complained, the superintendent tells ParentDish.
Hicks says Wire Village School Principal Linda Crewe and her staff were concerned about bullying after news reports that 15-year-old Phoebe Prince committed suicide in January in nearby South Hadley, Mass., after being hounded by bullies.
"I certainly supported the principal's intent," Hicks tells ParentDish. Nonetheless, he adds, students' due process rights cannot be ignored.
Hicks says he finds the media storm over the death of Prince a bit troubling. He remembers when 11-year-old Carl Walker-Hoover of Springfield, Mass., hanged himself last April after allegedly enduring daily anti-gay bullying.
Walker-Hoover's death didn't get nearly as much press, Hicks says. He suspects there's a reason. Walker-Hoover was black. Prince was white.
"Even with Barack Obama as president, there's still racism in this country," Hicks says. "I am glad the issue of bullying is being addressed, but there's still an imbalance here."
The situation in his school district is ironic, Hicks tells ParentDish. In the past, he says, parents have accused him of being soft on bullying. He denies that, saying he hates bullies. And his reasons are somewhat personal.
"I was 5 feet tall and weighed 100 pounds when I graduated from high school," the 64-year-old superintendent says. "I know all about bullies. Thank God I grew 5 inches before I started college in the fall."
Tom Gebo was suspended from recess as a result of ranking so high on the bully list. He admits to the Worcester Telegram & Gazette that he has indeed bullied other kids at the school (which serves fourth through sixth grades).
He even put his own name on the list.
"I had picked on a few kids, so I wrote that I bullied some kids and I signed my name," he tells the newspaper.
As a result, the Telegram & Gazette reports, a counselor met with the boy to go over strategies he can use when he's being bullied or when he feels like picking on someone else. The counselor also allegedly told him he doesn't need to share everything that happens at school with his mother.
"Parents should be poking and prodding their kids about what goes on at school," Danielle Gebo tells the newspaper. "We trust these school officials with our kids for six hours a day."
School district committee chairman Peter Rock tells the Telegram & Gazette creating the bully list was an over-reaction.
"Given what happened in South Hadley, I think people are being very cautious and sensitive," he says. "Unfortunately, sometimes people act in haste and make mistakes."
And yet Tom Gebo might have learned a lesson about bullying through all this.
"I know how it feels now," he tells CNN. "I think bullying is a bad thing and being bulled is an even badder thing."
Related: When Your Child Is the Bully
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.