A Western Massachusetts teen suicide has stirred feelings of anger, discontent and controversy. An Irish immigrant, 15-year old Phoebe Prince, committed suicide after a long running bullying campaign conducted by many of the girls and boys of the Northwestern School District in North Hadley.
Much of the controversy comes from the fact that teachers, administrators and staff of the school knew about the bullying but did nothing to stem the torment to Prince. Response to the suicide from the administration and staff came off as cold, defensive and dismissive. Instead of trying to reach out to the family, the administration appeared to go into defense-mode, trying instead to protect themselves and their interests instead of concentrating on the horrors and atrocities of the suicide and bullying causes.
Prince was dating a star football player and that did not sit well with the girls of the school. The taunts and bullying started with name calling such as “Irish slut”.
While the bullying had supposedly been reported to the administration and teachers, no action was taken by them to prevent or stop it. Many people in the community, including Prince’s family, are demanding the resignation or firing of teachers, staff and administration who knew but failed to act and prevent this tragic death.
Mental health and bullying professionals point out that trying to pinpoint suicidal behavior as a result of peer bullying and intense taunting is difficult. All mental health professionals are in agreement that the best way to prevent suicides of this nature is to prevent the bullying in the first place. Many in the South Hadley region are calling for new “zero tolerance” policies regarding bullying to be put into place for the school and its students.
The one clear thing is that a young woman with a rich and full life ahead of her decided dying was better than living with the daily abuse from her peers, and there is no controversy in that.
The child who is ‘left behind’ most is the one who leaves school without transition readiness.
Dr. James Stanfield, Ed.D.