School Safety – A Tale of Two Incidents

Those of us who, as high school students, remember having to slog through the then-unappreciated prose of Charles Dickens, probably remember this one really long sentence:

It was the best of times,
it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom,
it was the age of foolishness,
it was the epoch of belief,
it was the epoch of incredulity,
it was the season of Light,
it was the season of Darkness,
it was the spring of hope,
it was the winter of despair,

we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way— in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

What Dickens was describing was London and Paris in the late 18th Century, but the description – now well admired by my more adult sensibilities – shows that our times are just as well described by the beginning of A Tale of Two Cities.

This struck me as I was contemplating the aftermath of yet another episode of significant school violence, this time in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area. Franklin Regional High School sits in neighboring Westmoreland County, in the comfortable suburb of Murrysville.

By the accounts and information available, the response to the scene and the management of the victims and the investigation was well-coordinated. There is scanner audio which seems to indicate that the on-site School Resource Officer made a radio call to Westmoreland 9-1-1, which only recently started dispatching Murrysville’s Police Department. That action combined with the 9-1-1 calls received got a coordinated response, from multiple counties, rolling rather quickly.

The expected media frenzy was equal measures sad and entertaining in its chaos. KDKA talk show host Marty Griffin was actively soliciting information via his Facebook page in the first hours following the incident. The That’s Church blog chronicled well the social media equivalent of reporters trying to trample one another for the first bits of information.

As time has progressed, other media outlets have taken the expected step of trying to delve into the mental state of the assailant; whether or not he had problems, or had been bullied. From all available accounts, this was a “normal” kid, a good student, with no prior criminal record.

The young man’s attorney is alluding to bullying as a potential contributing factor to the assault. This will no doubt lead to additional discussions about the suspect’s mental state, and what specific circumstances may have contributed to his violent outburst.

Let’s be honest – bullying has been around for many generations, if not longer. Some of the emotional and physical scars are significant, and are only intensified when the means of inflicting those scars is through the wide reach of the Internet, especially social media. The federal government’s anti-bullying website devotes a section to these considerable effects.

 

Amidst all of this attention being paid to school violence, and bullying as a contributing factor to retaliation, we also need to consider a story from earlier this week concerning the handling of bullying accusations at South Fayette High School, south of Pittsburgh at the Allegheny / Washington County border.

As reported by the independent news site benswann.com:

In February, the student made an audio recording of one bullying incident during his special education math class. Instead of questioning the students whose voices were recorded, school administrators threatened to charge him with felony wiretapping (emphasis mine) before eventually agreeing to reduce the charge to disorderly conduct. On Wednesday, March 19, the student, whose name we have agreed to not include in this story, was found guilty of disorderly conduct by District Judge Maureen McGraw-Desmet.

Additionally, the story reports that the student was ordered to delete the recording from his tablet, and no action was taken against the students who were recorded doing the alleged bullying. The student’s mother is appealing the judge’s decision to a higher court.

The official blog of the U.S. Department of Education lists the Top 5 Ways Educators can Stop Bullies:

  1. Create a Safe and Supportive Environment
  2. Manage Classrooms to Prevent Bullying
  3. Stop Bullying on the Spot
  4. Find Out What Happened
  5. Support the Kids Involved

From the reporting online, it appears that South Fayette school administration failed to apply any of these principles in this instance.

Extensive searches of the local mainstream media have turned up no local coverage of this. None.

Despite this, the story has gained traction as it was picked up by websites such as Vocativ and PINAC, and eventually by the Drudge Report. Some of these sites have gone so far as to provide e-mail, phone numbers, and other publicly available contact information for the school administrators and police officials involved, as well as the District Judge. This has likely had the effect of causing these authorities to develop a defensive posture toward comment or interaction with any of those citizens who may have contacted them to express their displeasure OR support.

The South Fayette Township School District has refused to comment, as is becoming common in the age of privacy laws. It’s likely that the police and judge are also trying to ride the waves unnoticed until the storm of public interest dies down.

The argument could be made that given this posture, the story is a waste of the local media’s time. Given current events and community concerns about what happens to kids in school, I respectfully disagree.

These two incidents appear to represent a lot of what is good and bad about how our schools respond to safety issues. One school lived a nightmare scenario, responded professionally, and along with their community is displaying resilience and a commitment to grow from the adversity. The best of times, the worst of times..

The other school chose to punish the victim for trying to provide evidence of what was happening to him, erase that evidence, and basically pretend that it never happened. If that’s somehow not the case, then the school needs to say so. State Rep. Jesse White (D-Cecil), whose district includes South Fayette, stated in a Facebook comment that additional information would be available “soon”. I hope he’s right.

Should the incident at Franklin Regional be determined to have at its root unresolved bullying or other abuse, the incident at South Fayette seems to complete a cause-and-effect relationship between the two. Is it within the realm of possibility that a student treated in such a way at one school could eventually lash out in the way another student did at the other school?

Let’s hope that our schools continue to learn from these occurrences, while taking a moment to pray for comfort, peace and healing for the victims and their families.

Best wishes for a good week ahead. The President is coming to Leetsdale – can’t believe I typed that. This could be interesting…

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This entry was posted in Civil Liberties, Government, Local, Media, Public Safety, Schools, Security and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to School Safety – A Tale of Two Incidents

  1. JunkChuck says:

    This is as excellent an article on either unfortunate incident that I have read, in the national or local media. It’s sad that it required the tragic events at FR to draw attention to what I consider to me the extremely cowardly, and perhaps even corrupt administrative, police, and judicial conduct at South Fayette.

  2. JunkChuck says:

    Reblogged this on Old Road Apples and commented:
    I’ve been intending to write about two seemingly unrelated incidents in regional schools–both shocking, but in very different ways. Mr. Linko beat me to it. Look for more to follow.

  3. Pingback: South Fayette Update – Supplying Our Own Light | John Linko

  4. Pingback: QV Update: School Year Starts Without Resource Officer | John Linko

  5. Pingback: April / May Digest – A, B, C, D, E, and QV | John Linko

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