15-year-old Jessica Barba, a freshman at Longwood High School in Middle Island, NY, has been suspended for five days after creating an anti-bullying video as part of a school project and a Facebook page about a fictional 12-year-old girl who commits suicide.
As Barba tells Matt Lauer on the TODAY show, the purpose of the project was simply “to raise awareness of the major issue that’s bullying” — it is outrageous that she is being punished for her efforts to highlight an issue that has, tragically, become a pervasive feature of too many students’ lives and that has been the reason some have committed suicide.
The video, which Barba posted on YouTube, told the story of a made-up 12-year-old, Hailey Bennett (played by Barba), who was said to have lost her mother at the age of 3, been abused by her father, was left alone after her friends moved away and was the victim of daily bullying, at school and on the mock Facebook page. “Hailey” eventually takes her own life. Both the video and the Facebook page had disclaimers that made it clear that “Hailey” was fictional.
Barba included an update on the Facebook page that said “I wanna be dead.” This was seen by a parent who contacted police who then contacted Barba’s school, says MSNBC. Barba was summoned to the principal’s office and shown printouts that did not contain the disclaimer:
“I tried explaining it so much … they had the printouts of the page but none of the printouts that they had were the ones where I specify that it was a fake page,” Jessica said, adding that the person who handed them over “hadn’t been able to go down far enough to see that it was fake.”
Her mother, Jody, did bring printouts showing the disclaimer to school officials, but she told Lauer, “they didn’t really care too much about that.”
Barba says that, after the assistant principal asked her for the password to the mock Facebook page, she gave it him. As she told NBC New York, she was unable to log back into the page afterward and the page has now been taken down. She also said that school officials had told her to take down the video from the web “because that would help soften the blow of her punishment.” But after she was suspended for five days, she reposted the video, noting that
“I hope the school realizes this is wrong because all I wanted to do was highlight an important issue. Maybe this video will make a difference in the way kids see things.”
As NBC New York reports, Superintendent Allan Gerstenlauer says that the video was “unfortunate in that it created a substantial disruption to the school.”
Barba faces a suspension hearing at her school today. Her father, Michael Barba, is calling her punishment “extensive” and is demanding she be allowed to return to school, that the suspension be erased and that she be allowed to submit the project as school work. As he says to the TODAY show:
“This is a great project. There’s thousands of people that love it, and it can be fixed. This can be fixed, simple.”
“I’m very proud of the things she’s done here.”
Will Longwood High School do the right thing and acknowledge that Barba should be lauded for her efforts to fight bullying, not punished? What kind of message is the school district sending to the bullies?
Sign the petition to tell Superintendent Gerstenlauer to let Jessica Barba back in school!
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