Chris and Kim Brancato knew something was wrong when their 12-year-old son came home with bruised ribs. Teachers “thought it was horseplay,” and the boy never told his parents he was being bullied. So the bullies kept beating him up, his grades began to slip, and the Fluvanna Middle School honor roll student tried to kill himself. Only after the Brancatos noticed ligature marks on their son’s neck, did things begin to happen.
The Brancatos went to court and won. Now Del. Rob Bell (R-Albemarle County) is pushing a bully bill that would require schools to teach about “the inappropriateness of bullying, intimidation and harassment of others,”and would make schools report to parents with guidelines for filing a juvenile petition and contacting law enforcement.
Aside from being more skeptical about their son’s injuries early on which in turn, led to more than “$30,000 worth of medical bills, suicide watches and emergency hospitalization,” the Brancatos did what they should have done. They went to court and got justice. And they didn’t even have a bully bill to back them up.
Let’s imagine if the Brancatos did indeed have bully legislation on the books when their son was being beaten up. If the teachers thought the activities were horseplay, would there ever have been a phone call? Not likely. The Brancato’s son would have kept getting bullied until his parents’ curiosity over their son’s bruises, neck ligatures and bad grades, turned into anger and action.
Despite its good intentions, what we’re left with is a bill based on a heap of what-ifs. What if the school had known better? What if the school had called the Brancatos?
The bigger – and more delicate – what-if question is this: What if the Brancato’s son had spoken up?
For whatever reason, the victim stayed silent. His injuries were physical clues. His slipping grades were more clues. It took a suicide attempt for the 12-year-old to break his silence.
The boy did not deserve the suffering. However, there is an important lesson to be learned that is being ignored: If you are attacked, you must defend yourself, or expect more attacks.
“Defending yourself” doesn’t have to mean being a black belt in Karate. Telling a parent or other authority figure matters most.
Though we can sympathize with the Brancatos’ story, Del. Bell’s bully bill transfers the burden of parenting from parents to schools and that’s a bad, ineffective idea. Let schools take care of math and reading lessons. Let parents take care of life’s lessons.
Read The Daily Progress coverage of this story here.
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