Ramsey bullying case shows need for enforcement, monitoring to protect students – The Star-Ledger
Sawyer Rosenstein, a 12-year-old who dreamed of becoming an actor and once appeared on “Saturday Night Live,” got called all kinds of names at his middle school in Ramsey: “Fag.” “Jewboy.” “Whore.”
A teacher saw him get slapped in the face and reported it. He told school officials the bullying was getting worse and begged them to stop it.
“I would just like to put this on file,” he wrote in an e-mail to his guidance counselor on Feb. 9, 2006, “so if something happens again, we can show there was past bullying situations.”
Something did happen again. Three months later, he got punched so hard in the stomach — by the same boy who’d slapped him — that it caused a clot in a major artery, putting him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
Sawyer and his family recently settled their claim with the district for $4.2 million, without school officials admitting any fault. But what happened to this kid should serve as a warning to every school employee in the state — and as a reminder of why we needed our tough new anti-bullying law: If we don’t hold districts accountable, they’ll continue to re-enact “Lord of the Flies.”
The Rosenstein lawsuit said Eric S. Smith Middle School violated its own bullying policy by failing to keep records of reported incidents, escalate punishments for the students involved, or appoint a staff member to be in charge of enforcement.
Rosenstein’s attacker had a history of violence against other students, but none of the incidences were ever recorded by school officials in a file on the attacker, according to the victim’s lawyer, Jeffrey Youngman.
There wasn’t much in Rosenstein’s file, either, he said — except the bullied boy’s own desperate e-mails. His attacker was later charged with assault.
In a statement, the district said it “vigorously denied” any accountability and refused to elaborate. School officials would only reiterate that there was a bullying policy on the books, which isn’t a matter of dispute. They won’t discuss the real issue here: adequate reporting and enforcement.
So as we continue to debate how we’ll fund the strict new mandates of our state’s new bullying law, let’s not forget why we need them. Without better monitoring or consequences attached, this is what school bullying policies will be: just another perfunctory rule on the books.