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Bullied Students Need a Voice

The recent fake bomb threat made by a bullied student has led to a discussion of whether a bullying is a problem in Greendale. District officials acknowledge more needs to be done to improve communication on the issue.

If you are lucky enough to fit in, then you don’t have to worry about being bullied, said a former Greendale High School student.

High school can be rough. Not everyone is lucky.

A written bomb threat was found in a boys bathroom three days prior to the Greendale homecoming dance. It read "3 DAYS TILL BOOM JK OR AM I?". Five days later police arrested Nicholas S. Olson, 17, saying he was responsible.

Police originally recommended a felony charge against Olson, but prosecutors decided on a misdemeanor for Olson because of reports of prolonged bullying by his peers, including nominating him for homecoming court as a prank. The Greendale School District said they had nothing to do with the lesser charge, though the criminal complaint says the assistant district attorney talked with a representative of the district who said they agreed with that decision.

As soon as people in Greendale realized who the suspect was, the discussion on bullying began. People have been talking in the community and online, as in the dozens of comments posted on Patch stories about the bomb threat, about whether Greendale Schools have a bullying problem.

Being bullied

“Bullying is a problem everywhere,” said Wendy Sterner. She said her son was bullied all through middle school and high school in Greendale. “It is stronger here than in some other places. There’s bullying and there’s extreme cases like my son’s and Nick’s.”

Sterner says she was not surprised when she heard about Olson “snapping.” Even though she did not know Olson’s parents she called them.

“My biggest reason for calling was to say you’re not alone,” Sterner said. “Tell Nick to hang in there. Things will be improved…. I kept telling my son to hang in there. High school will be over."

Sterner said bullying changed her son’s life. He was called names, physically hurt and at times even got in trouble.

“He became a completely different person,” she said.  “As time goes by I hope he’ll heal from it. They turn on whoever is weak and then it starts spreading.”

Her son is now in college and is doing much better with a social circle of friends.

Bullying can start at any time. Greendale High School 2012 graduate Andy Budziszek wrote to Patch in an email exchange, for Olson, it may have started freshman year of high school, when someone decided to make him a target.

“If someone, ONE PERSON, decides to pick on you, that can infect you with the virus all the way throughout high school,” Budziszek wrote.This is what happened to Nick. His freshman year, one kid, or a small group of kids that were influential to a larger body started picking on him and that is what started his never-ending bullying throughout high school.”

Budziszek explained how difficult it is to come back from being the bullied kid.

"In the eyes of an unpopular kid, you feel hopeless," Budziszek wrote. "You really do. You can't try to be cool because when you do try, the popular kids/bullies beat you back down into the ground by starting rumors and talking to their friends about how 'hard you're trying' to be cool."

Olson’s cousin Jesse Johnston, who went to St. Alphonsus School with Olson, said his cousin had been bullied all his life and it kept getting worse.

“People calling him fat (and touching him inappropriately)," Johnston said. “People will be bullies and there's no other way to say it.”

The prank nomination to the Homecoming Court might have been the last straw for Olson.

Greendale High School Principal Steve Lodes said that the guidance counselor had noticed a weird number of votes for Olson when she was doing the tally. She approached administration about it and they informed Olson who declined the nomination. The criminal complaint states that Olson also received a large number of votes in last year’s prom court but Lodes said he was not. 

Lack of bully reporting

Students, parents and administrators all agree that there is lack of reporting bullying instances in fear of retaliation from the bully, humiliation or getting in trouble.

Budziszek said kids could be teased till they snap and throw the first punch.

Sterner said that's what happened to her son. She said another student started a fight with him, and he was arrested even though he threw his hands in the air so he wouldn't get in trouble for fighting. 

“For the kids being bullied, it feels like you're alone in school,” Budziszek said . “You have no choice but to be bullied, because if you react to the bullying, you will get yourself in trouble and the bullies will just sit back and laugh at you while you're sitting in a detention room during your suspension.”

In middle school Sterner’s son stood up to his bully and refused to sit next to him on the bus. She said the bully choked her son so badly he came home with marks on his neck.

Lodes said they don't have many reports of bullying, and that he thinks students often aren't telling adults about what is going on.

Greendale School District officials said they and the police liason had no prior knowledge about Olson being bullied before the homecoming court prank. 

“We could improve by putting more processes in place where students can report in an easier way,” Lodes said. “That is something positive that could spin off that we have been thinking about surrounding this issue. You can’t assume that every student has the ability to walk up to an administrator and tell them something. We can only deal with what we know.”

The district's bullying policy states reports of bullying may be made verbally or in writing and may be made confidentially.

District’s response

On Friday a letter went out to the community from Superintendent John Tharp and School Board President Joe Crapitto saying the district would not tolerate harassment, intimidation or other actions that lessen the student experience.

The district plans to set up community task force "to not just identify what may be happening in the community, but help us to build upon the existing programs and resources that are helping our young people to gain those skills that lead to respect, support, and strong character.”

Lodes said he plans to look into how to provide teachers, administrators and himself with any additional skills and training so when they see something they are able to provide the most appropriate reaction.

“We can start looking at how we can be a better school by providing students with the ability to have more voice if they need help or know somebody that needs help,” Lodes said.

Walking around the middle school it’s how hard to miss the bullying awareness posters throughout the hall. This is part of an 8th grade Service Art Club project.

Greendale Middle School Principal John Weiss believes that bullying is part of a larger spectrum and continuum.

“Our big effort at the middle school is our PRIDE program,” Weiss said. “All of that plays a huge role in making those connections, forming relationships with those kids and having opportunities for our kids to stand up as leaders.”

Weiss said bullying can be dealt with in many different ways and depending on the student and their history.

Both Sterner and Budziszek said students take the anti-bullying initiatives as a joke.

Sterner says her son’s experience was horrible but believes that the Greendale School District cares and is really trying.

“I don’t think there is anywhere in the nation that has found a really great solution to this,” she said. “I believe Greendale really does care. I just don’t think they know what to do. If they do know what to do it would require additional personal at a time of huge budget cuts.”

Budziszek feels that staff doesn’t make enough efforts to address bullying.

“It infuriates me just thinking about all of the times I've watched kids go talk to administration about bullying and administration pretty much blew them off by saying ‘Ignore it’ or ‘I'll look into it’ or ‘I'll watch for it next time’. Nothing is ever done.”

But everyone agrees there needs to be a solution where bullied kids can easily come forward.

“This type of thing is going to continue to happen, possibly worse, when you have teenagers, especially boys, because they keep so much inside if we don’t find someway to help them,” Sterner said.

Carolyn October 06, 2012 at 11:14 AM
My son will bullied in Greendale grade school. I brought to the attention of the teacher and it was handled excellently.... Thank you Greendale. The young child that bullied my son is a great young adult now......he was young and confused in grade school!
Lisa417 October 06, 2012 at 01:21 PM
Can someone please tell me how the police liaison for the school knew that the harassment of this young man had been going on for years and the school officials say they had no prior knowledge of the bullying? I'm sick of the schools brainwashing us with only the positives of the school and not taking responsibility for any negative. Deny, deny, deny, and hope it all quiets down and goes away.
Lisa417 October 06, 2012 at 01:26 PM
Can someone please tell me how the police liaison for the school knew that the harassment of this young man had been going on for years and the school officials say they had no prior knowledge of the bullying? I'm sick of the schools brainwashing us with only the positives of the school and not taking responsibility for any negatives. Deny, deny, deny, and hope it all quiets down and goes away.
Steve Woodman October 06, 2012 at 03:16 PM
The communication is a late start from the district officials. The proof will be in the pudding not the spin.
Greendale taxpayer October 06, 2012 at 03:26 PM
I am glad to read that the school board is going to look into this matter and that the schools have current programs in place--albiet not effective ones. However, I am very disturbed that the administration is not be held accountable. Your articles have mentioned how the police liason and school administration were already aware that this student had been bullied for his entire high school career, yet nothing was done. Numerous parents and students have commented about being bullied and approaching the administration and being shunned or even threatened that the bullied student would be pursued by the police. This is unacceptable. Steve Lodes is the biggest bully in this situation and he needs to go. To allow and condone this type of behaviour on his watch is completely unacceptable.
Bren October 06, 2012 at 05:00 PM
"Greendale School District officials said they had no prior knowledge about Olson being bullied before the homecoming court prank." Given the comments on this subject, this statement doesn't sound quite right, does it. I think resolving this blight on the school district must be a priority. Maybe some leadership positions need to change to make that happen.
RG WI October 06, 2012 at 11:12 PM
The school officials are lying through their teeth that they "had no prior knowledge"
Darma Pepperdine October 07, 2012 at 12:31 AM
Enough of the negativity. We need the school board to do their job. Have the students who bullied been disciplined? Have the staff who knew about it dealt with it? Have the school board discussed it so the voters know what they think? Has the board member who is up for election in April who proudly claimed the young man would be expelled asked directly what he thinks now? As some one said in the postings, the proof is in the pudding. The Superintendent still is silent - what about a community town hall meeting where the public can ask questions and determine if the leadership positions need to change or not.
Frieda October 07, 2012 at 06:11 AM
Greendale High School has a history of punishing the bullied, not the bullies. When my minority children moved into the district, there was a case where another minority student, a transfer student, was taunted and harassed by local Greendale students. He came back with his big brother to throw a scare into his harassers, and he was expelled, and NO consequence for the harassers. My kids learned from this, and kept a low profile. Good luck with trying to change this culture.
Live and Let Live October 07, 2012 at 04:58 PM
I don’t understand all of the recent posts attacking our School Board, Principals, and Superintendent. Who will be next in this “Blame Game” that is occurring on this forum? The Lunch Ladies perhaps? This is a quality school district. The VAST majority of our School Board & Administration sincerely care about providing a safe atmosphere, in quality schools, for our children. As I posted previously, my son (like Nick) was bullied constantly for years. However, I truly believe that the level of bullying these two boys experienced is RARE. While bullying occurs in every school in this nation, only a small percentage of students are severely victimized on a daily basis. I am confident in stating that every member of the School Board and Administration is appalled by the thought that ANY member of their student body would have to cope with such a traumatic school experience. This Administration has NOT been deliberately negligent on the subject of bullying. They certainly haven’t ignored repeated community pleas to address this issue. In fact, until this situation was reported in the media, this community has never even communicated to the School Board that a better system needs to be put in place in regards to this issue. If it had, I guarantee you that the Administration would have made the entire issue a larger priority. (Continued)
Live and Let Live October 07, 2012 at 04:59 PM
(Continued) However, as I have stated in numerous posts, this is an extremely complicated issue, with few easy answers. For instance, do you want to pay higher taxes, or have valuable educational programs cut to finance an effective solution to this problem? Many students, especially boys, feel humiliated by the bullying, and are EXTREMELY reluctant to “Snitch” on the bully. How will you solve this? Victims of bullying often become socially immature/awkward because they are ostracized from their peer group. This makes them a larger target for the bullies. How would you fix this? Due to privacy laws, the student body does not see any consequences that are issued to the bully. This delivers an unspoken message that bullying isn’t a huge offense. In addition, the victim becomes increasingly less willing to come forward to report the behavior since they are never informed of any consequences for the bully. The victim assumes that the Administration just doesn’t care, and nothing will ever change. How will you address this issue? (Continued)
Live and Let Live October 07, 2012 at 05:00 PM
(Continued) These are only a FEW of the topics that need to be addressed in this situation. Quite a few of the comments that have been posted have called for replacing Administration and School Board Members, which would be extremely counterproductive. Because this issue is so complex, we need to work, as a community, with a School Board and Administration that is experienced. In addition, our School Board has always tried to listen to, and address, any issues this community has communicated to them. It is one of their largest strengths. This attribute, combined with their experience, is going to be an important part of the equation in addressing the bullying issue. So, please, stop vilifying this district and the Administration. Instead, if you feel strongly about this issue, work with them to find some solutions to this complex issue.
Danielle Michaelson October 07, 2012 at 11:44 PM
Enough about the school board. We know they are clueless. The administration runs the Greendale Public Schools. Green and Tharp. Lets move on and leave this issue.
A Greendale Parent October 08, 2012 at 05:11 AM
Can I just say that yes bullying does happen but not always to a crazy extreme that happened to Nick. I have 2 daughters that at different points in school were bullied. Their bullies lost all their power over my girls when they proved they weren't going to take it anymore & found different friends & smiled again!! They are both now happy girls with a nice group of friends in school. Most of the kids here at GHS are nice, pleasant, well-mannered kids who I, as a parent, deal with on a weekly basis & yet they aren't talked about. Lets remember those kids & talk about them & the great, positive things that they bring every day to GHS!!
Lisa417 October 08, 2012 at 05:24 PM
My daughter had a very similar experience at GHS. Thankfully my daughter had enough self esteem to move on, find new supportive friends, and deal with her tormenter. The bullies of today are very good at looking like positive and upstanding students to school officials. My daughter's bully was chosen/nominated by teachers as a peer mentor and my daughter wasn't the only one she bullied.
Aaron Tole October 09, 2012 at 01:10 AM
This just won't go away. At some point the school officials will have to do something about it. Letters, emails, just don't make the same impact as the leader of the district standing up and talking. We will see.
Jeff Randall October 10, 2012 at 12:06 AM
I looked over Greendale Patch's coverage of the new district administrator. The 2 candidates - hard to believe Greendale could only get 2 said they would be visible and accessible. What we see thoug is a new district admininstrator that is not visble or accesible. What gives?
Bessie Broyles October 10, 2012 at 03:25 AM
If the school officials do not follow up and pursue the bullies in this very case (it would not be difficult to get names and witnesses), then we know they will never act. We have a fresh and current case. This oblique talk about the future programs is ridiculous. There's a major incident right now that needs followed up. I'd also like to see how many documented cases they have on file of reports of bullying at GHS and how it was handled. Don't tell me that no one has reported bullies to this administration. Most won't-but plenty do. Why is Nick the only one who has had his name publicized? And the note scrawled on a bathroom stall--the news made it sound like a huge, official bomb threat. Ridiculous. And interesting how "someone" reported it so soon and right at the time where Nick would get in the worst trouble. If Nick is going to be dragged through the mud for being bullied into making a bad choice with no intent to harm, then the malicious kids who have made the choice and planned, intricately, to purposely harm him over the years and finally with this despicable prom prank need to be named by the newspapers and local news trying to get a quick rating from sensation, and they need to be made to appear in court, just like Nick.
Ernie Dished October 11, 2012 at 12:53 AM
There is a task force. The school officials will bring together a work team of hand picked people who will tell them what they want to hear. Part of the in crowd of parents. This is so predictable but there is no comment about any discipline to the kids who harassed Nick. Send it to a committee so it goes away. Good thing elections are in Spring. How many law suits are coming to the Greendale School District?
Charles Smith October 22, 2012 at 09:06 PM
We can always do something to prevent bullying, students more likely to suffer all because bullying normally occurs in school. I discovered a safety solution coming from SafeKidZone and I find it interesting. It has an application called panic button and by just simply pressing the button the alert will go directly to a group of safety network and can access to the nearest 911 in the area. You can check out their site http://safekidzone.com/

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