When Karen Klein, her two daughters and six grandchildren return from their all-expense-paid trip to Disneyland (thanks to Southwest Airlines), she may have a fresh perspective on the horrible bullying she endured. What likely will not change is her belief most students are good people.
The Greece, New York, bus monitor was leading a quiet life until the incident thrust her into the limelight. With four middle-school students cruelly mocking her and one of them recording the abuse for YouTube, she fought back with her only weapons: integrity and tears.
Max Sidorov from Toronto saw the video. He had experienced bullying himself when he was younger. He launched an Indiegogo fundraising effort to send Klein on a vacation. So many people contributed to the fund the total had topped $677,000 at the time of this writing. Contributors have been leaving sympathetic notes along with their donations.
While Klein was receiving this outpouring of generosity, the boys and their families were enduring death threats, hate mail and ugly phone calls. Some comments on Care2 expressed some of the same “eye for an eye” sentiment.
The Greece Central School District issued a press statement saying the students had been suspended from school and from regular bus transportation for a year. During that time they will attend an alternative program where they will receive formal instruction “related to conduct and behavior.” Parents will be involved in the program.
The students will complete 50 hours of community service with senior citizens and a formal anti-bullying program. If they do well during their first 30 weeks at the Reengagement Center, they can apply for readmission to middle school.
Next: The Aftermath
The incident has shaken the community of Greece. No community likes to think of itself as a place where a kindly grandmother would be subjected to cruel taunting. They held a rally in her support.
One blogger’s reaction pointed out the constant abuse meted out to people who carry a lot of extra weight. Writing for Daily Kos, gravitas13 points out:
The nation seems shocked at the treatment bus monitor Karen Klein received by a bunch of unruly school kids. But why are we so shocked at these kids behavior when our society does the same thing, day in and day out. Is our concern just big fat hypocrisy?
What rock can we crawl under to avoid fat bashing? Fat people are lampooned in sitcoms, villainized on the big screen, stereotyped on talk shows. Even if we turn off our t.v. sets, who can go to the supermarket without noticing those in your face tabloids about best and worst beach bodies?
As for Karen Klein, she is looking forward to returning to her quiet life as a grandmother – and perhaps even a bus monitor. She drove buses for 20 years until failing hearing pushed her out of the front seat and into the back. She likes kids and has no interest in pressing charges against her young tormenters. She agrees with their punishment but not their harassment.
Klein’s life will be financially easier. She will be able to do more things for her children and grandchildren. She will probably donate to two causes close to her heart – autism and Down’s Syndrome – because two of her grandchildren are affected.
As a new celebrity, Klein has been showered with attention everywhere she goes. She has met Max Sidorov. She has been sent on a trip to Boston. She has given dozens of interviews and been showered with flowers.
When the attention dies down, questions will remain. In the Toronto Star, Niamh Scallan expressed a sentiment on a lot of people’s minds:
Klein says she’s ready to forgive. But even as the world’s generosity and support continue to shatter expectations, last week’s trauma — an event that redefined cruelty in the minds of many — will be hard to forget.
It’s a conflicting feeling that will undoubtedly linger in this shaken community even after the news trucks pull away from Klein’s street and the limelight moves elsewhere.
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