Monday, Sept. 21, 2009 | 2:06 a.m.
In mid-April, fifth grader Jaheem Herrera committed suicide in his home near Atlanta. His parents say he killed himself because he was being tormented by bullies at school.
After Herrera’s death, other parents came forward to say their children had also been bullied and school officials did nothing about it.
Mike Wilson, who said his 12-year-old daughter was bullied in the same school district, called bullying a systemic problem. It is a problem that has long roots and stretches across the nation.
Two weeks before Herrera’s death, an 11-year-old boy in Springfield, Mass., committed suicide. The boy had complained about being teased after moving to a new school.
As the Associated Press recently reported, the deaths have brought a new focus on the way states and schools deal with bullying.
In the late 1990s, after a rash of school shootings, 44 states created laws that expressly ban bullying. The laws, however, have done little to curb the problem, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Brenda High, founder of Bully Police USA, a group that advocates for anti-bullying laws, says schools are not held accountable for enforcing the laws. High, whose 13-year-old son committed suicide in 1998 after being picked on at school, said the laws should include tough consequences for bullies and provisions for tracking what she called chronic bullies.
“The states themselves can’t micromanage a school district, but they can say to a school district, ‘Look, you have to have consequences,’ ” she said.
Schools should have consequences — bullies can pose a real threat to students and their ability to learn. However, creating more laws or increasing punishments are not necessarily the best ways to handle the problem.
Bullying exists because people — from principals to parents — refuse to get involved or take it seriously. That should change.
Students, parents, teachers and administrators should be taught what bullying is and how to deal with it. They should be supported in their efforts to stop it. Schools would be best served by creating a culture where bullying isn’t tolerated.