Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Bullycide in KY

Though I've left my ol' Kentucy home for the bosom of Windy, check out my story on the cover of this week's LEO.

It's about bullycide, which is when kids committ suicide due to depression caused by bullying at school. My story orbits around one of those cases in Kentucky by following the family of 13-year-old Stephen Patton, an 8th grader who killed himself last November allegedly due to being tormented by fellow students at Allen Central Middle School out in far reaches of eastern Kentucky.

The piece is important to the Bluesgrass considering the past and present context. Almost a good two years before Columbine was burned into the skin of American memory, Kentucky had one of those first in a string of tragic high school shootings in Paducah with the Heath High School shooting on December 1, 1997. Many bullycide advocates point to the escalation of harassment by fellow students as a cause for those shootings. They say bullycide is that same anger, frustration and depression but turned inward.

Presently, the KY Attorney General, Jack Conway, has put a considerable amount of attention and resources into educating the public about Internet crimes against children, particularly cyber-bullying. There's also House Bill 91, which is better known as the 'anti-bullying bill'. Introduced by Rep. Mike Cherry and signed into law by KY Gov. Steve Beshear this spring, it is one of the few things accomplished in the General Assembly this year. Many are rightly skeptical of the bill's effectiveness considering that Stephen Patton went to a school with an explicit anti-bullying and anti-hazing policy. Read about HB91 briefly, here.

Below is an excerpt of 'Bullycide' from LEO:

Coined by journalist Neil Marr, the term bullycide is defined as a suicide caused by depression due to bullying. It is becoming a popular stream of logic among educators, parents and legal experts seeking a single answer to the escalation of violence, stress and suicide in America’s schoolyards. Instead of taking their anger and depression out on others, as was the case with Michael Carneal, who killed three of his fellow classmates in the 1997 Heath High School shooting in Paducah, experts say victims of bullycide channel their frustration inward...

Bullycide experts are tongue-tied on the matter of whether to criminalize bullies, which became a subject of much debate during this year’s session of the Kentucky General Assembly (see
sidebar, page 11). In the Badon case, the lawsuit against South Oldham High School names as defendants two students who are barely over the age of 17. Creating a slippery slope could entangle easily reconciled situations of teasing in a web of litigation and character smears that could sustain into adulthood and effect employment and further academic pursuits. No one seems sure where the so-called torture begins and simple bullying ends. Many teachers and parents say they expect a certain amount of teasing as a test of character, something normal that takes place between kids who are jockeying for social status.

Should teasers and bullies go to jail?

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