Do not punish defense
I read the story of a father in Texas picketing a school after his 14-year-old 8th-grade son was suspended fighting back against a bully. The dad's sign says “Bullying victims are punished here.” His son, Max, was disciplined for fighting with a student who had been bullying him. Max's punishment was a two-day suspension in a district alternative school. With appeals to the school board not an option, the father turned to picketing, standing up for his son.
I thought about this. Bullying has been a continuing topic for years. When I was in 7th grade I was attacked by bullies and too overwhelmed to fight back. I was still punished like everyone else at the hands of a teacher not interested in making distinctions between the aggressors and the victims. I've never forgotten that.
Right now in Yuma high schools I know students are advised not to fight back if attacked. They are told to raise their hands, say they don't want to fight, or try to brush aside the blows, and hope the commotion will attract a teacher's attention.
Real life doesn't often fit what we want. A kid raising his hands and walking away is liable to have his head bashed. Then what? Curl up and continue to get bashed?
Suppose local police advised teachers, administrators and board members, “If you are stalked and physically attacked, don't fight back. Take the blows so we'll know you are not the attacker.” That would be unacceptable. The police should know better.
So, how is acceptable to deprive students of whatever age the right of self-defense, and the adult understanding that should come with it? What lesson is taught when no distinction is made between the bully and the bullied? How can anyone with intelligence think a victim should not strike back against an attacker?
How are distinctions to be made? By an investigation. Schools do it all the time. Speak with skill with the fighters alone. Then with witnesses. See which stories match. You will likely get at the truth of who started the problem. You may even hear a history of bullying that led up to the current problem. These are all things to take into account.
One way to show bullying is not acceptable is to effectively grant immunity from punishment to a student found to be truly protecting himself against an attack he did not bring on himself or provoke by his own actions or words. We say without apology if the bullied punches the bully in the nose after being attacked, we will side with the bullied. We say we value self-defense at every age and we will not punish for hitting the bully back.
Kids have been committing suicide because they feel no one understands, no one is on their side. If as an innocent party they are punished like the guilty, they are right. They are alone.
Then, they need a father willing to be a man and stand up for his kid.
Mike Shelton is a Yuma resident.