12-year-old Bailey O’Neill died on Sunday in a medically-induced coma, the day after his birthday. He had suffered a concussion, a fractured nose and seizures after what his parents say was a bullying incident on the playground at his school in suburban Philadelphia.
On January 10, Bailey — an honor roll student who was on the student council — was in an incident at his school in Upper Darby Township, west of Philadelphia. As his father, Rob O’Neill, tells a local ABC News affiliate, Bailey was jumped on by two other students, one of whom hit him in the face three times:
“It was an altercation in the schoolyard where kid wanted to fight my son, and my son wanted to walk away. One boy pushed Bailey into the kid [who wanted to fight him]. That kid then hit him in the face, then he hit his head on the ground. One pushed him into the kid, then the other kid did the rest of the work.”
Afterwards, Bailey was given an ice pack and sent to back to class. The other two boys were briefly suspended. Bailey’s parents were not immediately notified of the incident by the school.
As Bailey told his mother, Jina Risoldi, the other boy, who was taller than him, had challenged him to a fight. “This is not a fight between two boys. My son didn’t fight back,” she emphasizes. Risoldi also says that Bailey had been “challenged” to a fight by the other boy earlier in the week, that school officials were “aware” the other boy had a “history of bullying other children” and that she “questions about whether the school did enough to prevent the encounter” between Bailey and the other boy.
In the days after the incident, Bailey started having headaches and felt ”tired and irritable,” says Rob O’Neill. A medical exam revealed that Bailey had a concussion. After a week and a half, he started having seizures and at great frequency, says his father. The previously healthy child contracted pneumonia, the family friend confirmed and needed a blood transfusion, after which doctors at A.I. duPont Hospital for Children put him in a medically induced coma. He died on March 3.
The Delaware County District Attorney’s Office said it has opened an investigation and the Southeast Delco School District says it has been cooperating with this.
Delaware County District Attorney Jack Whelan says that an 11-year-old student is being investigated and that charges coud range from “simple assault — a low-grade misdemeanor offense commensurate with a schoolyard fight — to involuntary manslaughter.”
Bailey’s death allegedly as the result of bullying occurs after years of well-publicized campaigns to fight bullying in many school districts. Indeed, character education is highlighted as part of the supplementary curriculum on the Southeast Delco School District’s website. School administrators cite research suggesting that character education has not only helped to make “positive value lessons” part of the culture of a school, but to also enhances students’ performance.
Even as school districts make serious efforts to fight bullying, administrators must realize that these well-intentioned efforts do help, but they can’t sit back in their offices. As the officials in the Southeast Delco School District must be realizing, teaching “positive values” in the classroom and in assemblies must extend to the playground — must be applied and reinforced in students. The tragic death of Bailey O’Neill is all the more reason to redouble efforts not only to fight bullying, but to review and even revamp character education programs.
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