The family of a 6th grade* girl living in Texas have filed a $3 million dollar lawsuit against Live Oak Classical School in Waco, an expensive private school that the child attended through scholarships, accusing them of “negligence, gross negligence, and intentional infliction of emotional distress”.
The lawsuit lists a history of bullying behaviour by other children leading up to the final assault on the child known as KP. The lawsuit alleges that one incident of bullying, in which another boy repeatedly kicked and pushed KP whilst in a play rehearsal, was dismissed by the school’s principal Allison Buras with the following statements:
“It sounds like he may have pushed on the back of her leg to make her leg buckle, which is something the kids sometimes do,” Buras wrote. “Rarely is that done out of meanness but more out of a desire for sport.”**
This minimisation of inappropriate behaviour is, in and of itself, deeply concerning. Suggesting that children deliberately push a child into making their legs buckle, which inevitably results in falling over, as ‘sport’ fails to recognise that this is frequently undertaken by children to humiliate others. It can be used between groups of close friends, particularly boys, playing because we socialise boys to believe that physical actions that can result in harm to other children is ‘normal’; that is part of being a ‘boy’. It is done out of ‘meanness’ because we socialise boys to believe that cruelty to one another is funny.
We need schools to challenge the idea that pushing, shoving and kicking other children is ‘sport’. And, we need schools to step up when children (or their parents) report such behaviour as part of a pattern of bullying.
This is how the Daily Beast has reported the most serious assault:
But the main complaint against the school comes from an April field trip to Germer Ranch in Blanco County, Texas. KP and several other children were said to have come across a swing with long rope was attached so children could pull it, the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit states KP was standing to the side of the swing when three white males, including one who allegedly bullied her in the past, pulled the rope back and wrapped it around her neck. The boys then violently jerked KP to the ground, the family claims, leaving abrasions on her neck.
The lawsuit alleges that the school failed to access appropriate healthcare for KP and did not inform the parents, at any point, of the assault and injury. As this happened during a school residential trip, the parents did not find out about the injury until the following day. They immediately took KP to the hospital and it was the hospital who informed the police due to the severity of the injury. The police investigation is ongoing. This a huge failing of child protection.
The school itself claims that the incident was an accident.
Make no mistake, this is an assault. Children of 11-12 years of age know perfectly well the consequences of wrapping any material around the neck of themselves or another child. Their cavalier attitude to the safety of another child does not reflect well on their parents or the school demonstrating a failure of safe-guarding. It also speaks to a culture of bullying being excused by the school.
This is without addressing the issue of racism.
Even without the history of lynching in the US, children who wrap a rope around the neck of another classmate and then pull should be sending huge red flags about their propensity to violence. That the victim was an African-American child attending a prestigious and mostly white private school and the perpetrators white boys only reinforces the schools failure to deal with this incident appropriately and to recognise the role of racism in the assault and in how the school dealt with it.
Whilst the erasure of African-American history in schools is well-documented, these children were sixth graders. They will have seen films, television and video games in which the lynching of African-American people is used as entertainment. Criminalising children is not appropriate as it does address the real issues at play: racism, hyper-masculinity and white, male privilege. But we cannot pretend that these boys did not understand the potential consequences of wrapping a rope around the neck of any child or that they were not aware of the specific history of lynching in the US.
What this story demonstrates is the failure of schools to deal appropriately with violence committed by boys and an unwillingness to recognise the role of racism in bullying and in the failure of child protection.
*The average age of a sixth grader in the US is 11-12 years old.
** Raw Story claims this comment was made in relation to the assault involving the rope swing, whilst Daily Beast and New York Mag suggests it was made in response to a previous incident. I am assuming that the Daily Beast’s version is correct insofar as I can not believe anyone would suggest that wrapping a rope around the neck of a child could be construed as ‘sport’.