Erin Kelly explores the ways bullying and vulnerability intertwine when a disability is involved.
Fear has many faces. It can hide behind a smile or quietly creep into your soul like a thief. Society teaches us to look fear in the eyes and conquer it. However, what happens when that face and those eyes are ones you know — or, if you’re a parent, what if they’re ones you’ve taught your child to trust?
According to the March 7 article, police and superintendents at Parma Senior High School in Ohio were conducting an initial investigation of an incident involving a disabled student that occurred Feb. 28. Another article, published the day prior, stated that five students, along with substitute teacher Greg Mellinger, were accused of bullying the same student.
The student, whose name was not mentioned, reportedly had a developmental disability. That was reason enough for another student to throw a volleyball at his head at close range during gym class, causing him to fall.
It was also reported that a 13-year-old girl, presumably a student, watched and assisted in the incident — kicking the victim in the groin, causing him to fall again. As a crowd of their peers watched the scene unfold, the substitute teacher who’s also under investigation was said to have directed them to another area of the gym before continuing to conduct class.
The March 6 report went on to say that three of the five students involved were cited for assault, while the other two were cited for disorderly conduct.
According to an Ohio police report, Mellinger was also cited for endangering children — a first-degree misdemeanor that includes his decision not to take action as this was occurring.
Jeff Graham, one of Parma High’s superintendents, didn’t comment on the incident. However, he did say that bullying is an issue the Ohio school district has dealt with first-hand for a long time. In fact, the Ohio school district has vowed to take the necessary steps to rectify this situation, and released this statement:
“This type of conduct is unacceptable and our district remains committed to ensuring that all of our students are provided [with] a safe learning environment. We will continue cooperating with the proper authorities in this matter.”
The Ohio State Police Dept. has also stated in numerous reports that they plan to interview the victim as part of the investigation.
As I read news of this incident, I found myself having mixed emotions. On one hand, it’s disgusting that some people stoop this low to bully someone because of their disability. In my mind, a disability is a difference one can’t control — just like the average person can’t control whether or not they have freckles, a prominent nose or what have you.
On the other hand, I wasn’t surprised to read that something of this nature occurred. However, I think we need to make an honest effort to educate ourselves about certain things, such as bullying and the hidden depth of violence that it brings, in order to truly be moved by them enough to take action.
The number of school-age children who are being bullied is rising by the millions — not counting the staggering statistics on disabled youth who are subjected to the same unfair treatment. Studies have shown that children with disabilities are just as likely to become victims of cyber-bullying as their able-bodied peers.
If that’s not an indication of the monumentally disturbing shift in society, I don’t know what is. In fact, I think a child with a disability is much more vulnerable to be bullied, simply because the world says there’s something “wrong” with them.
There’s added weight there, because you not only have the pressure of your disability to contend with. You also have to come to grips with the notion that you’ll be put under a microscope for life — for the one thing you can’t change about yourself.
Consider this: If bullying can drive a normal, able-bodied teenager to commit suicide, imagine what it does to a kid with a disability.
It doesn’t matter if it’s light or dark, early or late. More and more young people are falling victim to bullying—but if we all stop, look and listen — maybe we can be the ones to shine a light of refuge.Photo: by Feral78/FlickrPhoto: cliff1066™/Flickr