The first failure we see is Klein’s. The job description for a bus monitor in the Greece Central School District in New York where she was working specifies requirements to “maintain order on buses,” to “enforce district policy governing student behavior,” and to “report orally and in writing instances of continuing disruptive student behavior.”
Klein had a responsibility to step up and assert her authority – if not for her own benefit, then for the benefit of the other kids on that bus. Instead, she sat and tolerated the abuse, performing none of her duties and leading by the worst kind of example. The takeaway for a child, witnessing this scene as it unfolded, would be: “If a grown-up can’t do anything to stop them, then I sure can’t.”
That simply isn’t true. When they stay silent, bystanders condone bullying, but when they speak up, they can kill it. Speaking up is scary and difficult. But if children, and certainly their adult guardians, are part of a school culture that consistently encourages and empowers them to do just that, a dramatic change can take place.
A victim might be outnumbered by bullies, but bullies are frequently outnumbered by witnesses. With instruction, encouragement, and support, these witnesses can shift the balance of power by virtue of their numbers.
But they first must be taught that they have that power, and assured that their reports will be taken seriously. Peer intervention is a powerful force. This entire incident went public because a fellow student, under the moniker CapitalTrigga, uploaded the video to YouTube in order to draw attention to the problem, becoming unsung hero in this drama. Once that happened, the bullies were steamrollered into submission by the crushing weight of public opinion.
Apologists for Klein’s total lack of action might insist that she wasn’t trained to handle bullies, or that she simply felt powerless. If either is true, it points to a wider, more systemic problem: that Klein’s school district fails to provide its personnel with adequate training to manage abusive students, thereby putting all students at risk, or that they fail to listen to or act on staff reports of abusive student behavior. Either scenario would allow bullying to flourish.