LETTER: Former Wilmington Middle School Student Concerned About Bullying At The School

Dear Editor,

I’m a student at Wilmington High School and have been having problems with school administration not getting back to me in a timely manner. I have sent the following email over five months ago to the superintendent and a similar email to the middle school principal a month later.

Hello Dr. Brand! I was one of the sophomores that signed up to be a part of the Wilmington Middle School Committee. I have emailed you to discuss the growing problem of bullying at the middle school since I was not chosen for the committee. Whether it is intended or not, the school has a strong philosophy of letting the victims of bullying handle it on their own. Any anonymous reports would be ignored and the mental distress that victims have gone through would often be downplayed by teachers and guidance counselors alike. The perpetrators of bullying incidents would never get punished, which leads to a dangerous cycle of being able to get away with harassment. I firmly believe that immediate administrative action must be taken in order to get the situation under control. Bullying incidents at the Wilmington Middle School are severely mishandled because of failing to follow up on anonymous reports, the blatant disregard for the victims’ mental health, and the lack of discipline toward the perpetrators.

The Wilmington Middle School 2018-2019 Handbook states that “Each school shall have a means for anonymous reporting by students of incidents of bullying. No formal disciplinary action shall be taken solely on the basis of an anonymous report.” (Please note I could not find a newer edition.) According to a study done in 2019 by the National Center for Educational Statistics, only 46% of bullied students report it to an adult. Despite the anonymity, these kids are still going against the status quo and reaching out in hopes that something will be done. I have also noticed that the administration does not bring much attention to the anonymous reporting system in the first place. With the help of anonymous reporting, more bullying incidents can be brought up to the administration so the school is not left in the dark about it. There has to be more attention brought to the system: perhaps more places around the school to file a report or having it on the announcements.  And when an anonymous report is filed, it has to be taken seriously and action must be done. Because if you do not, even fewer students will go to the administration for help and they will continue to suffer in silence.

Now, the overall handling of mental health issues within the school is atrocious because of the lack of discussion around it and adults not taking children’s issues seriously. Discussions about mental health are practically nonexistent. I understand there are numerous severe mental issues that schools cannot handle on their own, so there have to be multiple clearly advertised ways to get professional help. The discussion should not be so simple as to just “go to an adult.” Getting professional help provokes severe anxiety and a sense of failure in many students and there needs to be more education on ways to combat that initial mental barrier. I am not a psychologist or have any certification, however, simple advice such as encouraging someone to get help with a friend or go to a hotline can be beneficial.  And please talk with a mental health professional about more that could be done, as again, I am not qualified. From my own experience and the experience of many others, the staff has repeatedly invalidated students’ issues. Personally, I’ve been told by both teachers and guidance counselors to “just ignore” the bullying that was happening to me because it was only verbal. The school environment of playing off harassment and mental health issues just because of the “it’s part of being a teenager” mentality has to stop. There is no policy or guideline or anything official that can be put into place to stop this; there needs to be more empathy.

There is minimal punishment for the perpetrators of bullying and that is the pinnacle of the negligent discipline within the school. The school preaches about its zero bullying policy and yet most of the time, the bullies get a slap on the wrist and nothing changes. The victims of the mockery are then taught that the school does not care about them or their issues. “Talking out the problem” (the usual route taken) does not work. The victim reports the issue and gives their side of the story. Later, the perpetrator is brought in for their side of the story. Now, the perpetrator can deny it or can offer fake regret and sorrow for what they have done. I know I cannot give a particular statistic to help my case, I cannot say “x percent of the perpetrators of bullying are lying when confronted.” However, I, along with many others, have lived through that nightmare and know that most get away with it. The bullies receive no repercussions and it never stops because of school intervention. Regardless of whether the tangible policy is in place or not, the school needs to start delivering on its promises immediately.

I write this to you from a place of extreme heartache.  I criticize the way the middle school runs harshly because I do not want any other kids to have a similar experience to mine. Change does not happen overnight, but I hope that the middle school can start heading on the right path. Thank you for your time.

It pains me to bring this to the public, but I refuse to have my peers and I be silenced on the matter. I hope you can help me bring more awareness to the topic. I prefer to remain anonymous. Thank you.

(Editor’s Note: Wilmington Apple will publish anonymous letters as long as Wilmington Apple knows the identity of the letter writer.)

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