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What Role Do Adults Play in Bullying?

100330_bulle_princeexThe suicide of Phoebe Prince after she was extensively bullied by her peers at a Massachusetts high school has reverberated through the country.

Schools are examining their recess rules to control bullying. MySpace and Facebook are being freshly scrutinized with an eye to the dangers posed by peers. And yesterday, nine of the students involved in bullying Phoebe were charged with criminal offenses.

Today, Slate’s Emily Bazelon asks, “What about the adults who knew what was happening?

While no adults were charged with crimes related to Phoebe’s death, it’s clear that some knew the girl was being bullied. School officials say they had reports of bullying in the week before her suicide, and that they dealt with the students involved quickly.

The district attorney’s report says there was a three-month campaign of bullying at the school, involving at least the nine teenagers charged. Did the school administrators really only find out about it in the final days?

The D.A. also reports that some of the bullying took place on campus in front of faculty members and staff. The day she died, Phoebe was bullied in the school library in front of several students and at least one faculty member. No one reported the incident to the administration until after her suicide.

The school has assembled an anti-bullying task force, that meets with what Bazelton calls “dwindling numbers”. They’ve eschewed bringing in an outside expert to help with bullying problems. Several of the students charged in Phoebe’s death left the school after her suicide, but others were attending classes this week.

The principal, teachers and administrators have received a lot of support from their community, many of whom are appalled at the image their small town has gotten in the media after this tragedy.

But to the handful of critics, the new criminal charges are a welcome opportunity to more fully understand what happened and prevent it happening again. That means dredging up not only the reality of what the bullies did, but what the adults failed to do to stop them.

Should the school administrators and teachers have done more to help Phoebe and curb the bullying? What could they have done? How should they be held accountable now?

Here are some great tips on how to tell if your kid is being bullied.

Photo: Slate

More by Sierra Black:

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