Two years ago, Pasco's sheriff and school superintendent said children deserved a safe place to learn and they encouraged students to report bullying, abuse or other potential crimes so adults could intercede before incidents turned violent.
The kids have gotten the message. Some adults still haven't. Inattentive school officials in Pasco and Hernando counties are sending the wrong signal to children worried about their personal safety. In one case, a teenager was beaten on a school bus. In another, a boy committed suicide. Both had put their concerns in writing, but, both, their parents contend, received insufficient responses from their schools.
What's the use of telling students to report bullying if adults are going to pay short shrift to legitimate concerns?
In Pasco, Chase Crista, a sophomore at Mitchell High School, told an assistant principal of threats made by other girls after Crista had intervened to stop the girls from verbally abusing another student. Specifically, the girls warned Crista to watch her back on the bus ride home. Crista filled out a report and assistant principal Jill Cortier told her to inform the bus driver, but the administrator did not intervene nor speak to the other girls.
On the bus ride home, Crista was beaten and the evidence was posted online after a student recorded the assault on her cell phone camera. The assailant and the girl with the camera both face criminal charges after Crista's mother reported the battery to police.
The consequences were more tragic in Hernando. Twelve-year-old Miguel Rodriguez took his own life Jan. 23 after being picked on by other students at West Hernando Middle School about his diminutive stature. The seventh-grader stood 4 feet 8 inches tall.
More than a year ago, his mother requested he be transferred to another school after being subjected to verbal and physical abuse including being kicked in the genitals and in the head and having a water bottle thrown in his face.
Hernando superintendent Bryan Blavatt said isolated incidents do not constitute bullying. A school guidance characterized it as horseplay. They should reconsider their definitions. Safe learning environments don't include intolerant language and physical confrontations.
Both schools now say the handling of the incidents are under investigation. They should be. Both students documented their concerns. Both deserved better intervention from the adults responsible for their well being during the school day.