Sui­cide spurs ac­tion but still not enough

Boston Herald - - NEWS - By ALEXI CO­HAN

Nine years ago to­day, 15-yearold Phoebe Prince killed her­self after nearly three months of con­tin­ued tor­ment by fel­low stu­dents at South Hadley High School — a sui­cide that pushed law­mak­ers to act to pro­tect chil­dren.

Prince, an Ir­ish trans­fer stu­dent, was ha­rassed by class­mates for dat­ing an older foot­ball player, en­dur­ing months of phys­i­cal and emo­tional abuse on­line and in school that ended in Prince’s death by hang­ing.

All six teens that bul­lied Prince were in­dicted on charges con­nected to her sui­cide that in­cluded vi­o­lat­ing civil rights, crim­i­nal harass­ment and even statu­tory rape. But the teens avoided jail — two were sen­tenced to a year’s pro­ba­tion and the oth­ers were sen­tenced to less than a year’s pro­ba­tion.

Half of the stu­dents were ex­pelled from school while the other half re­mained.

Prince’s death shook the state and prompted the state Leg­is­la­ture to take an un­prece­dented move in in­tro­duc­ing anti-bul­ly­ing law cur­ricu­lum into pub­lic schools, and re­quir­ing dis­ci­pline and re­port­ing of in­ci­dents.

The com­pre­hen­sive law re­quires school staff to re­port any in­stances of bul­ly­ing and to in­ves­ti­gate if nec­es­sary. The law also de­mands that an em­pha­sis be placed on bul­ly­ing pre­ven­tion and in­ter­ven­tion.

A re­cent Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion sur­vey sug­gests that nine years later, the law is fail­ing. While 15 per­cent of Mas­sachusetts’ nearly 1 mil­lion K-12 stu­dents claimed they were bul­lied, only about 2,000 cases — re­flect­ing less than 1 per­cent of the stu­dent pop­u­la­tion — are re­ported each year. That sug­gests thou­sands of bul­ly­ing in­ci­dents could be go­ing un­de­tected, as was the case with Anna As­la­nian, 16, who killed her­self in Oc­to­ber and only re­vealed she had been bul­lied in a let­ter found after her death.

CHRISTO­PHER EVANS PHO­TOS / HER­ALD STAFF FILE

GONE TOO SOON: After re­peated bul­ly­ing, Phoebe Prince, above left, a stu­dent at South Hadley High School, above and left, killed her­self on Jan. 14, 2010, prompt­ing an anti-bul­ly­ing push that re­sulted in leg­is­la­tion that re­quires schools to do more to help.

FILE PHOTO COUR­TESY OF WGGB

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