Academic journal article Missouri Law Review

Bullying Victimization as a Disability in Public Elementary and Secondary Education

Academic journal article Missouri Law Review

Bullying Victimization as a Disability in Public Elementary and Secondary Education

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

A. Jamey Rodemeyer (1997-2011)

"JAMIE IS STUPID, GAY, FAT AND UGLY. HE MUST DIE!" (1)

"I wouldn't care if you died. No one would. So just do it :) It would make everyone WAY more happier!" (2)

"Kill your self!!!! You have nothing left!" (3)

"you're a bad person, you don't belong here, jump off a bridge or something!" (4)

"Go kill yourself, you're worthless, ugly and dont have a point to live." (5)

"You werent bom this way. You shouldnt have ever been bom." (6)

"Jamie" was Jamey Rodemeyer, a 14-year-old freshman who was starting his second week at Williamsville North High School in Williamsville, New York, in the fall of 2011. (7) For several months, classmates targeting him as gay sent messages such as these in social media, the climax of bullying that reportedly began in the fifth grade and continued throughout middle school. (8)

As Jamey entered Williamsville North, his life was torn between outward signs of emotional strength and inner impulses toward personal despair. In May of 2011, he used his webcam to produce and post online his video for the "It Gets Better Project," which seeks to fortify students who are bullied because of perceptions about their sexual orientation. (9) The project's perspective is that the sting of childhood and adolescent bullying fades with the passage of time. "All you have to do is hold your head up and you'll go far," Jamey spoke directly into the camera, "Just love yourself and you're set.... It gets better." (10) The video, his intermittent positive blog postings, and his denials of personal troubles reportedly reassured his parents that he was taking the incessant bullying in stride. (11)

Advising schoolchildren to wait patiently until life "gets better" may seem sensible to many adults, and may indeed help many children overcome frustration or setback caused by bullying or other crises in their lives. The advice has its limits, however, because impatience can color an adolescent's worldview. Recollecting a difficult childhood decades later is one thing; awaiting a better adulthood may be quite another.

   Unlike adults, who have learned to anticipate the future and thus
   to manage delay, children have a built-in time sense based on the
   urgency of their instinctual and emotional needs....

   ... A child will experience a given time period not according to
   its actual duration, measured objectively by calendar and clock,
   but according to his purely subjective feelings of impatience and
   frustration. (12)

Jamey Rodemeyer's outward expressions of optimism masked suicidal thoughts that began as early as the fifth grade and later led him to begin seeing a social worker and a therapist. (13) Early in 2011, he responded to a social media question, "What's one thing people don't know about you?" "How much I hate my life," he typed, "Maybe it's cause I'm bullied, a lot." (14) "People would just keep sending me hate, telling me that gay people go to hell," he explained on YouTube. (15)

On September 8, 2011, Jamey wrote that "[n]o one in my school cares about preventing suicide, while you're the ones calling me [slur not quoted in the media] and tearing me down." (16) On September 9, he wrote that "I always say how bullied I am, but no one listens. What do I have to do so people will listen to me?" (17) Perhaps anticipating four more years of actual and virtual bullying in high school, Jamey posted his final online message in the early morning hours a few days later and then committed suicide in his backyard. (18)

B. The Emerging National Consensus About School Bullying

As of January 2013, forty-nine states (all but Montana) have enacted anti-bullying statutes, (19) thirty-six of which explicitly address cyberbullying, the "electronic aggression" (20) that Jamey Rodemeyer endured in the last months of his life. The state statutes typically require school districts to adopt written anti-bullying policies, teach prevention curricula, discipline bullies, and cooperate with law enforcement when bullying turns criminal. …

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