While waiting for the school bus in Elkton, Maryland, 11-year-old Kaleb Kula was recently beaten by another boy. As other children cheered — and as Kaleb was punched in the face — another student filmed the assault on a cell phone and uploaded the footage to Facebook where it was seen dozens of times and by Kaleb’s horrified parents.
Kaleb is on the autism spectrum and also has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and says that he has been bullied “for years.” His parents, James and Jessica Kula, say that they have repeatedly asked the Elkton school district for help to stop the bullying. “At least kids that don’t have special needs can defend themselves a little bit more…He’s pretty much defenseless,” said Kaleb’s father. His mother commented that “I just can’t believe that kids can be so mean.”
Police say that the student who hit Kaleb has been charged as a juvenile with second-degree assault. The school district’s response — to call parents together to discuss bullying among students, according to the New York Daily News — so far seems half-hearted and all the more so as Kaleb reports that he has been enduring such treatment for some time. He has been both physically assaulted — kicked, punched “and a lot of other things” — and reports daily taunting, with students calling him a “homosexual.”
I’ll confess that, as the parent of an autistic son, I can’t stomach seeing the video; the screen shots posted by the Daily Mail are terrible enough. What’s just as disturbing as the assault on Kaleb by the other boy is the other students’ heartless delight about filming the assault and posting the footage online. During the incident, other children reportedly yelled “Yo, beat the s——— out of him, this is going on YouTube!”.
Bullying, harassment, or intimidation means intentional conduct, including verbal, physical, or written conduct, or an intentional electronic communication, that: (I) creates a hostile educational environment by substantially interfering with a student’s educational benefits, opportunities, or performance, or with a student’s physical or psychological well-being and is: 1. motivated by an actual or a perceived personal characteristic including race, national origin, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, ancestry, physical attribute, socioeconomic status, familial status, or physical or mental ability or disability; or 2. threatening or seriously intimidating; and (II) 1. occurs on school property, at a school activity or event, or on a school bus; or 2. substantially disrupts the orderly operation of a school. [my emphasis]
The above sounds good but, based on the experience of Kaleb and his parents, the school district could do a lot more in teaching students that abusing and harassing other students is simply uncalled for; is simply wrong. Elkton Middle School has a section on its website about cyber safety to teach students about how to use the internet safely but, it seems, need to do much more, to teach students about how to treat others with respect, in the real world and online.
Kaleb himself says that he is trying to “move on” but describes what it feels like in words that every school administrator and official should hear:
I’m going to try to put this behind [me], but then it’s going to come running back in front of me and confront me again. That’s what I think will happen. It’s like a groundhog trying to run from its shadow.
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Photo by Kelley Mari