In suburban Buffalo, a gay 14-yer-old boy was so taunted at school and online that he took his own life. In New Jersey, a school declaration of October as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender month for students was belittled on a Facebook page, with the writer calling homosexuality "a sin" that "breeds like cancer." And in Mobile, Ala., a second-grade special education student was mocked on Facebook by someone who donned the helmet the small child needs to wear for protection during seizures.
These would all be terrible, painfully wrenching stories if they involved fellow students who had used cyberspace to bully at a new, more brutal and more cowardly level. But two of the cases involve bullying by teachers.
Union, N.J., teacher Viki Knox—a special education teacher who presumably had been trained to display compassion without judgment—is being investigated for going on Facebook and railing against the school's support for gay, transgender, and bisexual students. Knox called homosexuality a "perverted spirit," and said she was "pitching a fit" over the support for the students. "I know sin and it breeds like cancer!" Knox's now-unavailable Facebook page said.
Knox's supporters say she has a First Amendment right to write what she wants. That may be technically true—up to a point—but it is mind-boggling that she would think her free speech rights allow her to engage in the same sort of bullying less mature people at the school are warned not to do. How can anyone justify sending a child to learn in such a hostile and threatening environment?
In the Alabama case, teacher Jeremy Hollinger allegedly posted on his Facebook page a photo of himself wearing the helmet required by one of his special-education students. Yes, that would be a second-grader who was humiliated, causing the child's mother to transfer the little boy to another elementary school. And in case there was any gray area about how Hollinger feels about his vulnerable students, the teacher also posted derogatory comments about the students, saying they ate crayons and sometimes soiled themselves when they couldn't make it to the bathroom in time.
The Buffalo-area case is tragic, because it resulted in a death. Worse, some students continued to taunt Jamey Rodemeyer's sister about her sibling's death, on the day of the boy's memorial service. At least one child has reportedly been suspended.
Bullying is a serious problem in schools, and one that has become even more toxic in the age of the Internet. In the past, a taunted child could find some solace at home, or at activities away from the school campus. Facebook allows young thugs to intimidate and harass fellow students 24 hours a day.
There will always be children who torment other youngsters. Parents should discipline them, and teachers should identify and report the bullies. But who will protect the children from the morally debased teachers hired to watch over them?