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When school administrators turn victims into felons

School Bullying
School Bullying
Wikimedia Commons

After the recent stabbing at Franklin Regional High School, one would think that school bullying would be something that school administrators would take seriously. Granted, this particular situation came up before the stabbing, however it is about to end up back in a courtroom in the Pittsburgh region soon.

In another Pittsburgh suburb, there was an incident where a boy was bullied in the classroom, in front of the teacher. He had been telling his mother that he was having difficulties with other students picking on him, so he decided to catch a little bit of the abuse on his school-approved iPad. Instead of this proof working to help this boy put an end to the torment, it landed him in trouble with the law.

The school administration called for legal advice on the situation once it became clear that the boy had an audio recording of a classmate picking on him. They ended up calling the police, and the police initially intended to charge the boy with illegal wiretapping - a felony. After questioning the boy without the presence of his mother, the administrators and authorities told the boy to delete the file. He didn't want to, but he did.

By the time the case made it to a Magistrate's court, there was no evidence to prove that the boy had made the recording - presumably that is why the charges were dropped down to a misdemeanor. But, the fact remains that the boy was found guilty of something, and the legal logic offered by the court was that the student that had been abusive had an expectation of privacy in the classroom.

The logic is questionable at best, when one considers a couple simple facts. There were other students in the room, so by definition, it was not a private interaction - there were man potential witnesses in the room, including a teacher that should have intervened effectively. This incident occurred in a public school. While the exact details of the kind of security the specific school has in place were not readily available, it is safe to assume that there are some forms of surveillance in the classrooms, even if it is just audio in the form of two-way communications with the office. It is a public building, with many people present, and if the door was open, there could have been people in the hall that heard the exchange.

Remember, the boy was the victim. He wanted to prove to his mother that he wasn't making it up, or going insane. The teacher did not come to the boy's defense - did not maintain control of the classroom. Instead of addressing the real problem of bullying and chaos in the classroom, the administration chose to try to weasel its way out of responsibility by blaming the boy.

Mass violence in schools is often associated with students that are considered "quiet" and "loners", but another common thread is that they are often bullied. The violent outburst is an act of desperation after enduring abuse from other students. That is not to say that the violence is justified in any way, but to point out that when there are claims that there were "no signs" of trouble there might be someone attempting to avoid being blamed for missing signs. That's what this school should hope they don't end up facing - a student losing control, and attacking others out of a feeling of helplessness. After all, if you're bullied at this school and try to get proof of it, more likely than not, you're the one that will end up in trouble - not the bullies.

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