“When Sexually Offending ‘Pillars of the Community’ go Undetected” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Pillar Ruins, Retrieved from wallygrom/Flickr, August 16, 2013

Pillar Ruins, Retrieved from wallygrom/Flickr, August 16, 2013

When men who sexually harass, assault, traumatize, or otherwise violate others, especially when they are wealthy, powerful, and/or influential ‘Pillars of the Community’ – and they go undetected and are not held accountable or responsible for their actions – everyone, including themselves, is diminished and victimized.  Recently, we have heard and read about the sexually offensive actions of San Diego’s mayor; nearly 20 women have now come forward with accusations of sexual harassment and misconduct by this man.  Neither is he the first whose actions have violated and offended so many women, nor will he be the last.

Many other men from all walks of life may go undetected for years or even decades with their sexually offensive and/or harmful actions, especially if they are wealthy, powerful, and/or influential.  Often, these men – when faced with the harsh truth of their words and/or actions – blame, punish, revictimize, and do whatever possible to destroy the survivors of their misconduct.  For them, it is a vicious cycle from which they cannot escape because they may often be unwilling and/or unable to honestly admit to themselves that they are wrong, that their words and actions are harmful to their victims, and that they require assistance to overcome their misconduct.  In fact, they may not even see any wrongdoing in their actions, nor perceive their victims as victims; thus, the cycle continues, especially when these men are undetected and are not accountable, nor responsible for their actions.

In 2007, a female parochial school student at St. Joseph’s School in Gowanda, New York described to her teacher and her fellow classmates about how the parish priest, at the time, had sexually harassed her when he was alone with her in the parish rectory.  At the time of the incident, the student was 12-years-old.  This occurred during a time when a party was being held in recognition of the altar servers who gave of their time and service to the church and school at parish masses.  The student reported that she had not told her family about the incident, and therefore, the teacher took responsibility and informed her parents about it.  Sadly, the parents did nothing about it. 

The teacher, being concerned about the girl’s safety, suggested that she no longer be an altar server.  The girl, however, wanted to continue being an altar server – and did so for her remaining year at the school – while the girl’s teacher and certain of the girl’s fellow students made great efforts to be sure that there were no other instances of the priest being alone with her.  That the priest (who is now retired) was in his 60’s at the time, and the student was only 12, suggests that this church leader may be a pedophile. 

When confronted through communications by the teacher that he was a wolf in sheep’s clothing rather than a pious church leader, the parish priest retaliated against her.  He privately stated to her, threatening that she “should be afraid” of “the Mafia.”  Far from fearing the Mafia for having done no wrong, this woman continues to believe that it is the priest who should be afraid – not of the Mafia – but of the judgment of God.

During the years 1976-2006, a former female member of St. Joseph’s Church – the church that is associated with the aforementioned school – experienced repeated sexual harassment, as well as two instances of pedophilia by one of the wealthy, powerful, and influential benefactors of these institutions.  The early instances occurred when the girl was 5 and 7-years-old, with one being at one of the man’s businesses and the other occurring while the man was dressed as Santa Claus.  The man sexually harassed this female, treating her like his sexual plaything, from his ages of approximately 35-65 years old.  In later years, the man typically sexually harassed the woman in church and/or on church property, including making sexually explicit actions and gestures toward her in church during masses.  The man has also been known to have sexually harassed other women and girls in his immediate community.

In 2007, the father of the man immediately aforementioned behaved in a manner of sexual misconduct toward the woman by committing a sexual battery against her, privately, while in church after a mass.  The woman remained in the presence of this offender and confronted him, though he simply walked away.  As a man whom this woman considered a friend – someone whom she had known only as a friend throughout her life, and who had provided emotional and spiritual support to her in the past, as well as having dated one of his grandsons – the woman expected an apology at the very least, but got nothing of the sort. 

To have lowered themselves to committing pedophilia, offensive sexual actions, and/or harmful sexual misconduct – and taking no responsibility to correct it, nor to be accountable for it – reflects how men who are wealthy, powerful, and/or influential ‘Pillars of the Community’ may go undetected in their sexual misconduct.  These men may be priests, business owners, award winners in their communities, and highly-regarded by most people.  That these men have not taken any steps to correct or seek forgiveness for their misconduct from their victims causes them to avoid identifying and realizing that they have a problem, and therefore, they continue the vicious cycle with other unsuspecting people.  They do not know or care in the least that they have lost the respect and trust of those whom they have victimized; they appear oblivious to the harm they have caused.  Rather than honestly admit and recognize that they have a problem, they do everything possible to cover it up, as well as blame, punish, retaliate, and destroy their victims. 

I feel sorry for men who have such a need for power, control, and dominance over girls and women that they behave in ways that sexually harass, assault, violate, traumatize, harm, and/or intimidate their victims.  That there are many men out there who are viewed by others with admiration and respect, though they secretly and/or discretely perform actions of sexual misconduct, reflects how easy it is for them to go undetected.  In situations where the men performing the sexual misconduct are wealthy, powerful, and/or influential ‘Pillars of the Community’ is worse because they have access to so many venues and opportunities to commit their sexual offenses.

Women and girls, in particular, are at great risk for sexual exploitation by the wealthy and powerful.  I have often heard the phrase, “From whom much is given, much is expected,” however in some cases regarding the wealthy and powerful, their sexual misconduct goes undetected and may continue for years and/or decades.  That many men violate the God-given rights of women and girls (and boys) by committing sexually offensive acts against them shows their lack of respect, appreciation, understanding, insight, and compassion toward them.  Many men, especially those who are among the wealthy and/or powerful, can do better to keep their sexual impulses controlled and in check so that they do not rise to the level of harassment, misconduct, assault, or trauma toward others.  By not doing so, they truly have no concept regarding the level of emotional pain, distress, trauma, and/or mistrust they have caused, and continue to cause years into the future.

I would like to recognize and send my appreciation to all those who stand up for women, girls, children, and the rights of women and children, especially toward survivors of sexual traumas and abuse.  In my own personal circle of friends, two of these women are Merrie and Frances.  Both women risked their own well-being and reputations, as I also have, to stand up against sexual harassment, sexual offenses, gender discrimination, and hostility toward women in our communities; we also experienced retaliation for our efforts, and still do. 

The ultimate in love and friendship occurs when people risk and sacrifice themselves for the good of others, much as Jesus did.  While strong women who stand up to protect those who experience sexual trama and offenses toward them are not often rewarded for their efforts, we have been rewarded by knowing that we have done the right thing in God’s eyes.  Our true rewards await in Heaven; the truth has already set us free.

“Student Exodus from Area Parochial School Could be Avoided” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

St. John Neumann School Billboard, August 12, 2013, Lilburn, Georgia

St. John Neumann School Billboard, August 12, 2013, Lilburn, Georgia

During this Summer of 2013, 15 rising fourth grade students left St. John Neumann Regional Catholic School in Lilburn, Georgia.  Only three new students entered the fourth grade in addition to the 15 who left.  During the Summer of 2012, eight rising third grade students left the school.  Only two students entered the school as new pupils in the third grade.  Interestingly, both of those students also left the school this Summer, after only one year at the school.  Additionally, the vast majority of students who have left are Caucasian; most others are of mixed race parentage.  Each year for the past three years, the school has considerably down-sized in terms of student population as well as faculty.  Currently, all grade levels have two classes; it used to be that most or all grade levels had three classes up until three years ago.

As a person who has been Roman Catholic all of my life, and who has provided a Catholic education to my child, the exodus of students and faculty from St. John Neumann School is concerning and disturbing.  One must ask, then, why there are so many who are leaving the school.  I have the answers to that, and it does not necessarily involve finances, budgets, or economics.

I suspect that I will come across as “the bad guy” to many by sharing this information regarding the school, however it is for my concern for students’ welfare, well-being, safety, and positive growth and development that I am doing so.  Additionally, my son is aware that I have a blog, and he also asked me to include his perspectives; my son is 10-years-old.

First, let me state that St. John Neumann School provides an outstanding – outstanding – education to the students.  Overall, my observations of what students learn through the challenging curriculum are well above my expectations.  Each year that my son was a student at St. John Neumann School, however, was a roller coaster.  There were wonderful and memorable experiences that he had with several outstanding teachers, however there were also many situations that he experienced by peers and adults at the school that were mentally and emotionally harmful and injurious to him. 

I often communicated with both school administrators and school system administrators, encouraging that greater sensitivity, compassion, and understanding be provided to the students.  Some of my suggestions were put into place, and some were not, and some were later removed after they were first implemented.  As an involved parent at the school, as well as an active volunteer for five years there, there was much that I personally observed and/or was informed about by students.  By far, the most serious issue facing students is the bullying, harshness, and often insensitive treatment they experience by administrators and certain teachers and staff.  I often encouraged upper administrators in the past five years to hold sensitivity training for employees of the school, though that never occurred.

Another very serious issue at the school is bullying that students’ experience from their own peers.  Some children repeatedly experienced bullying from teachers, adminstrators, and/or other staff, as well as certain peers.  This has created an unnecessary and avoidable stressful and hostile environment for many students.  One problem is because many of the school employees are so harsh and insensitive toward students, they are bullies themselves, and they therefore do not recognize, nor put a stop to student bullying.  Last year, more than 25% of parents responding to a school survey stated that bullying is a problem at the school.  I am one who has, again, encouraged school system administrators to hold anti-bullying and bullying prevention programs for faculty and staff at the school, however that has also never occurred.  Such training may help reduce bullying and increase sensitivity and compassion of adults and students toward other students.

A further big concern is the overwhelming pressure that is placed on students to be perfect in every area and in every way – academics, behavior, sociality, religion, and extra-curriculars.  Beginning with the youngest children, students who do not complete their homework are regularly disciplined.  In the past, teachers required students to stand outside for 5-10 minutes “on the line” – as they would say, on the outdoor paved parking lot play area, typically in the excessive heat.  This was an unspoken rule practiced by primary and early elementary school teachers and paraprofessionals.  Older children who did not complete homework are required to write answers to particular questions on a “behavior reflection” that reduces or eliminates their 15-20 minutes of recess time. 

St. John Neumann School Parking Lot Play Area, Lilburn, Georgia, May 2012

St. John Neumann School Parking Lot Play Area, Lilburn, Georgia, May 2012

For two of the past five years, another unspoken disciplinary rule practiced by at least three school faculty involved making students walk and/or run “laps” outside during recess on the parking lot, again, typically in the excessive heat.  Sadly, this practice appears to be somewhat of a common, unwritten practice in this area – requiring students to run laps as punishment in excessively high temperatures – as I have discovered that it occurs at many schools.  In regard to one second grade boy, I informed his father that he was required to run laps as punishment by a paraprofessional, outside in the searing heat, and the dad did not believe me.  How sad that some parents are not more concerned about what their child is experiencing at school.

Other teachers at the school regularly separated certain students from their classmates by requiring them to keep their desks far-removed from those of other students, whether for certain assignments or even months at a time.  I often observed where many teachers would use guilt, humiliation, and embarassment toward students to demoralize them into doing what they wanted them to, rather than speak to children with respect, compassion, and understanding. 

Early elementary students are also required to miss 45 minutes of lunch and recess by serving detention in the main office, including for extremely minor offenses.  Such harsh and unnecessary punishments are unethical, demoralizing, and depressing to many students, particulary those outstanding students who get caught in the crossfires of the political drama at the school.  In consulting with employees of other area schools, lengthy detentions are required only in the most severe situations of high school – high school – students, not early elementary students!  I personally requested of school administration to reduce or eliminate this practice, though there was no positive change, and in fact, only a worsening of it, amounting to nothing less than emotional sadism toward students.  When those who are charged with caring for children see nothing wrong with such unnecessary, harsh disciplinary action toward children for the most minor of offenses, definite positive change is needed. 

Also in practice at the school is suspending children as young as second grade – to my knowledge; one very sweet little girl was suspended last Spring for I cannot imagine what.  In other area schools, such a practice of issuing out-of-school suspensions to the youngest students is unheard of and entirely taboo.  Such a practice proves the lack of sensitivity, understanding, and compassion by school administration.

I feel sorry for the students who are at St. John Neumann School due to the harshness, coldness, and lack of sensitivity and compassion that so many experience from alot of adults as well as peers at the school.  I have often encouraged those in charge who could make a positive difference to consider being more sensitive, understanding, kind, and compassionate toward students.   Harsh, demoralizing, excessive, and/or inhumane punishments that are disguised as “disciplinary actions” – even for the most minor of wrongs – are well beyond what school employees should expect of children.

When students get seriously hurt or ill at the school, a parent is lucky to get a phone call or communication about the incident from anyone.  A second-grade student got a serious blow to the head during outdoor play, but no ice was placed on the injury and no phone call was made to parents.  Upon picking up the child from school, it was obvious to the parent that the injury was serious.  When the child spoke of dizziness a number of hours after the injury, the parent took the child to their pediatrician. 

A kindergarten student fell in the hallway and sustained a large gash near her chin.  Parents received no communications from the school about the incident, and only a band-aid was placed on the wound.  Upon removing the band-aid after the child got home, the parent observed the depth of the wound, taking her to the emergency medical clinic where she received four stitches.  There have also been instances in which students were genuinely ill, but when they asked to go to the clinic, they were refused by certain teachers and paraprofessionals.  Keep in mind that absolutely no communications to parents by anyone at the school was made in any of these situations.

Safety is also a concern at the school.  There are no security cameras at the school, so there is no tangible record of situations that occur there – it is one person’s word against another’s.  A parent can inform an administrator about a teacher who belittles, bullies, and yells at a student – such as, simply for asking to use the restroom – but without any recording of it, the administrator does not believe it, does not want to get involved, and further, had already behaved in a bullyish manner toward children, so it is a lost cause.

Additionally, even with improved security measures having been implemented at the school this past Spring, it has not actually gotten better.  All visitors are to sign-in at the front office upon entering the building, however have been many occasion – including since the new policies were implemented – that I personally observed people enter and walk through the building without signing in at all, nor going to the main office.  There are also repeated instances of no one being at the front desk at the main office when people enter the school. 

St. John Neumann School, Lilburn, Georgia, August 2013

St. John Neumann School, Lilburn, Georgia, August 2013

Last Spring, there was an actual “intruder alert” that occurred at the school that was not a drill; I was at the school volunteering when it occurred.  Parents were not informed by any school officials that the intruder alert occurred.  While the Superintendent stated in an archdiocese newspaper article that such drills and procedures regularly occur at all schools, a teacher at the school shared that only one such alert – whether actual or drill – occurred there in the past seven years!  If she means that such alerts and/or drills occur every seven years, she would be correct that they occur regularly, however it has been my experience that many public schools, for example, practice them between 2-4 times each year.  Because these drills and alerts are not “regularly” practiced at the school, many teachers really do not know what to do.  When fire and even tornado drills are practiced more than intruder drills, I for one, am concerned about the safety of my child at the school.

Teachers are also known to leave outside doors propped or even slightly ajar when they are supposed to be closed and locked.  Unfortunately, this is also a practice at many schools, so that late colleagues can enter the school undetected by supervisors.  However, that this is regularly being done on the hallway that houses the youngest children is a serious safety concern.

Again, I will likely be viewed as the bearer of bad news by sharing this information, however I believe that steps need to be taken to make improvements in order to progress rather than regress at St. John Neumann School.  I know I won’t win any awards for my article.  That my son – a 10-year-old – also wanted me to share his views about what he experienced at the school reflects the tone and atmosphere that is present at the school. 

While we have had many wonderful and memorable experiences at the school, as well as having met, interacted with, and befriended many people – including some truly great teachers – it is a serious concern when a school does not live up to it’s mission and standards.  When “teaching the Gospel values” of God and Jesus in the Catholic tradition is merely spoken but not actually practiced by many school representatives, there is definitely something that must change for the better. 

So, at $7,000 per student in tuition only, St. John Neumann lost a total of 18 students from the second and third grades in the past two years.  I think that’s a total of $126,000 if I did my math correctly, right?  That’s alot of money to be losing.  In business, it is always said that it is much easier to retain those people who are already part of an institution rather than recruit new ones.  However, in sharing my perspectives about this to both school administrators and school system administrators, there has been an apathy and lack of concern about it.  For me, personally, as a Catholic and having desired for my child to have a Catholic education, this is a serious concern. 

Thus, the reasons that I have described herein, I believe, are those that have caused the increasing exodus from and diminished size of St. John Neumann School in Lilburn, Georgia.  Isn’t it time for a positive change?  My aim in sharing this information is not to be critical, however it is to be honest and urge for positive change and improvements to occur at the school.  St. John Neumann is surely an excellent school at which students receive an outstanding education.  And again, while we have had many wonderful, exciting, and happy memories at the school, there are also a number of issues that deserve both serious attention and improvement. 

It is definitely disappointing when a school of one’s own faith does not meet minimal expectations regarding the value and treatment of children.  Children should not be perceived, nor treated as bad what with issuing so many unnecessary and harsh punishments; it is the perspectives and training of the adults that need drastic improvement.  Maybe if more people put their heads together, praying and working hard in doing what is in the best interests of children, that will occur.

“Part of the Problem, or Part of the Solution” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

It is very upsetting, discouraging, disappointing, and disturbing when one approaches another to seek improvement in and/or resolution to a particular matter, and the other person contributes to being part of the problem by not being understanding or supportive about it, rather than being part of the solution.  I experienced this several times, already, this week in relation to school situations.  The person for whom it is most upsetting and disturbing is the child who directly experiences it.  It is always discouraging to experience situations in which the words and behaviors of school employees are part of the problem.  It is encouraging when their words and actions contribute to solutions.

When a family is spending more money on a private school education for their child, they expect more in every area.  Expected is more support, more understanding, more sensitivity, and at least, fairness, particuarly in situations about which upper administration and administration are informed, regardless of by whom they are informed.  Expected is a positive experience for their child.  Expected is fairness, without bullying of the child by either peers or adults.  As one often finds, unfairness and a lack of sensitivity and understanding may be the norm.  Such a norm should not be tolerated or accepted by anyone, nor experienced by the child.

Therefore, people – particularly those in education who work with children every day – can be a part of the problem or a part of the solution.  I much prefer that they be part of the solution, and that it be a positive solution at that.  Situations in which a particular child is repeatedly blamed for standing up for himself or herself to peer bullies who belittle and degrade him – especially in a Christian environment that is supposed to promote Christian values – are particularly frustrating. 

Worse is the educator and/or administrator who can say nothing positive about the child who has stood up for himself or herself, and instead, always finds fault and harshly punishes the child.  Such educators and administrators should be ashamed of themselves for their repeated unfairness, for repeatedly supporting the bullies.  Never do those child bullies receive any consequences for their actions; their words and actions are repeatedly supported.  The victim of the bullying is repeatedly blamed.  Psychologically, this is the blaming of the victim routine.  Unnecessarily, it typically happens to the same child or children who stand up for themselves to the bullies.

It was the same for me when I was in school.  A bully provoked, and provoked, and provoked, and finally, when I stood up for myself, I was blamed and punished by school officials.  The bully who provoked the situation received no consequences, and behaved as though she was the victim to garner more support.  The same types of situations occurred toward my parents and other family members when they were in school.  School should not be a place in which people experience bullying, however it is and has been throughout generations.

I try to teach my child to be patient with others, that when others bully or provoke him, it is their problem.  However, it is difficult and challenging for any child to tolerate or accept being bullied.  In a Christian environment, with a Christian background and upbringing, I try to teach my child to turn the other cheek.  However, others typically perceive those as weak who are patient, kind, and who turn the other cheek. 

Unfortunately, and from what I have found throughout my own life experiences, the most productive way to cause a bully to stop bullying you is to give the bully back some of their own medicine.  For people who are kind, nice, caring, and compassionate, it completely goes against one’s personality to do so.  However, in doing so, the bully typically leaves you alone after that.  They discover that their perception of you was incorrect.  They discover that you have surprised them by standing up to their bullying, to their provocations, to their harsh words and actions. 

I want the best for my child.  I want my child to enjoy going to school.  My child receives and excellent education, however I repeatedly encourage the practice of increased sensitivity, patience, positive reinforcement, support, and understanding.  I do this every year.  Some are more supportive and understanding than others; some will never change. 

There are few who hold the high standards that I do of being caring, compassionate, patient, supportive, sensitive toward, and understanding of children.  To those few, I deeply appreciate you; you are part of the solution.  However, it is those who refuse to see and practice a different and better way who are part of the problem, who contribute to the regression and/or detriment of the child. 

Those who are part of the problem, rather than part of the solution, should not be in education.  They are not positive role models for children.  In this day and age, we desperately need more and more positive role models for children.  So, when are things going to change for the better rather than for the worse?  Positive change and a reassessment toward needed support for children who are repeated targets of bullies is imperative – it is imperative!  Fairness and support are imperative, rather than unfairness and a lack of support!  It is exactly this type of unfairness and lack of support that leads to bullicide – the suicide of students who are bullied, by peers or by adults.  By then, it is too late, and another life has been tragically lost.

Therefore, I encourage each of you to be positive role models for children, and to always be part of the solution – whether in education or any other area – rather than part of the problem!  Be a positive role model for children.  Be open to thinking of saying or doing things in a different and better way.  Be sensitive toward, and considerate, understanding, and supportive of children, for the sake of their mental, emotional, spiritual, social, and physical well-being!

“In Celebration of Spring and Easter” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Easter Chick with Easter Eggs, Easter 2013

Easter Chick with Easter Eggs, Easter 2013

Spring has sprung, and Easter is again upon us!  There is much to be thankful for in celebrating another Easter – Christ’s ultimate sacrifice in giving his life for us, dying a horrible death beyond words and resurrecting his spirit for us.  Jesus is the God who continually forgives our sins and is our ultimate savior, unable to be replaced by anyone or anything.  And, though there are many things in our world by which we may attempt to replace our Creator, what it all comes down to in the end is that God is the ‘be all and the end all,’ the first and the last, the alpha and the omega. 

So, while many of us are spending additional time at church during this Easter season, reflecting, praying, and meditating on Jesus and his life, death, and resurrection, we must always remember that we are all His children.  With that in mind, those of us who have children of our own must be mindful of not only teaching them about our religious values, but also participating in fun Easter events, such as getting pictures with the Easter Bunny, going to Easter Egg Hunts, or enjoying other fun Easter or Spring activities, including something as simple as walking in the park and viewing the flower blossoms on the trees.

Easter Egg Hunt at St. Oliver's, Snellville, Georgia, March 30, 2013

Easter Egg Hunt at St. Oliver’s, Snellville, Georgia, March 30, 2013

I hope that everyone enjoys a beautiful, wonderful, rejuvenating, and refreshing spring.  And, regardless of the religion that you may or may not practice, hopefully, you will take time to reflect upon and be thankful for all that has been bestowed upon you in your life.  For me, as a Roman Catholic Christian, celebrating Lent with the culmination of Easter in spring is a wonderful time of reflection and renewal.  I hope there are events and celebrations in your lives in which you experience the same!  Happy Easter!

“Scout Sunday 2013: Showing Love to God” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

 

My Son Being Recognized for Earning his Parvuli Dei Religious Medal, Scout Sunday, St. John Neumann Church, Lilburn, Georgia, February 2, 2013

My Son Being Recognized for Earning his Parvuli Dei Religious Medal, Scout Sunday, St. John Neumann Church, Lilburn, Georgia, February 2, 2013

 Scout Sunday was celebrated on Sunday, February 3, 2013 this year.  My son and me had the pleasure of participating in Scout Sunday Mass with Pack 522 at the 5 PM vigil on Saturday, February 2 at St. John Neumann Church in Lilburn, Georgia, where we showed our perpetual love to and for God.  This year, my son earned and received his Parvuli Dei religious medal at this wonderful Scout Sunday recognition mass in which we have participated at St. John Neumann Church for the past three consecutive years. Each year, there is a great turn-out of Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts who are affiliated with St. John Neumann Church and/or School, and this year was no exception.  The scouts, parents, leaders, religious, and members of the parish community at St. John Neumann always make Scout Sunday a positive and memorable experience; and we are always happy and honored to participate in it.

Particularly after experiencing certain unpleasant experiences related to privacy and protection in the former pack with which we were associated along with our former parish, it was our honor and pleasure to again participate in St. John Neumann’s consistently outstanding Scout Sunday Mass and Religious Recognition Ceremony.  Both the Mass and Ceremony are always handled professionally, and with sensitivity and sound integrity toward the privacy and protection of the youth involved.  That, as always, is very much appreciated.

“Cub Scout Privacy Issue Transforms into Personal Vendettas Against Concerned Mom” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Cub Scout Pinewood Derby Car and Trophies, January 2013

Cub Scout Pinewood Derby Car and Trophies, January 2013

On January 19, 2013, a local Cub Scout pack associated with a Roman Catholic Church in my area with which we were affiliated held it’s annual Pinewood Derby.  At the Pinewood Derby happened to be an older man who was photographing every child – scouts and their siblings – whom I had not before seen.  This man had a large professional-style camera, and was aggressively photographing the children, sometimes getting into their faces to do so.  As a former scout leader – who is also still certified, by the way – and as a concerned mom, red flags were raised in my mind about this man who appeared to be a professional photographer, whom I did not know, and who was quite aggressively photographing the children.

Toward the end of the Pinewood Derby when the children were receiving their awards for speed and design, I spoke to the photographer – who, by that point, I decided was a professional photographer – and confronted him about why he was taking so many photos after he tapped me on my shoulder while I was taking photos and told me to move out of his way.  He took photos of my child and every other child, with no advance notice from pack leadership, nor with any opportunity not to provide consent, nor to opt-out of this situation. 

When the photographer would not answer my question, I became more concerned, and asked if someone hired him.  He replied that, indeed, another scout mother (whom I later discovered was a friend of his) hired him to take the photos.  I verbally stated to him that he did not have my permission to use any photos of my son, and he acknowledged that.  He then began to argue with me that he didn’t want to talk with me because he was taking photos.  This created an unpleasant and uncomfortable situation for me as I am interested in the privacy and protection of my son – and that of other children – and that a safe environment be provided and maintained.

Not knowing this man, nor what he was going to do with the photos that he took of every child, I e-mailed four particular leaders within the pack leadership committee whom I knew had the most experience in the pack.  Also, I did not e-mail other leaders because I did not know their names, nor their e-mail addresses.  I e-mailed the four particular folks, expressing my concerns for privacy and safety of my son, and that of other children regarding this individual, whom I discovered was, indeed, a professional photographer.  I requested the name and contact information of the professional photographer so that I could send him my nonconsent in writing regarding the photos that he took of my child without my permission. 

One of the den leaders whom I had e-mailed put up an unnecessary argument with me in response to my concern, and did not at all take the situation seriously.  This den head happened to be the leader of my child’s den, and he used this situation as a personal attack at me, throwing in his own personal vendettas toward me that were unrelated to the issue at hand.  He also used these issues as his reasons to eject my family from the den, which has caused my son to be extremely hurt and betrayed.  Mind you, the man in question is an individual who asked me to serve as a den leader with him, and I did so for a period of one year, always maintaining professionalism and ethics in my interactions with him and everyone in the den and pack.  That he brought his own personal issues against me into the matter were unprofessional and unethical, including that he never informed me about such issues before the current issue at hand.

The pack leadership committee chairwoman then responded to me, also not taking my privacy and safety concerns seriously.  I asked her, in writing, on three occasions throughout a period of one week (seven days) to provide me with the name and contact information of the photographer.  She did not even know the man’s name or contact information!  No references were requested of this man; and no attempt to inform parents beforehand, nor provide any opt-out condition was offered!  It took the pack leadership committee chairwoman all of those seven days to respond to me with the name of the photographer’s business. 

The same pack leadership committee chairwoman also explained to me by e-mail that only a few (four) of the leaders in the pack leadership committee had approved the professional photographer taking photos at the Pinewood Derby, and that it was a change that came about the night before the Derby when a scout mom said her camera was broken and she asked a friend to take the photos.  Supposedly, as was explained to me by e-mail, the professional photos were to be used to create a CD collage for an outgoing leader.  However, without anything in writing to parents in advance, there was no guarantee that this photographer from off the street could use those photos for anything that he desired – as well as the scout mom whom he stated to me had hired him.

In order to inform the charter organization representative in these issues in an effort to gain a positive resolution in my son’s best interests to the matters, I also communicated with and contacted the parish clergy of the church that charters the pack.  I also took the opportunity to address the bullying which my son and other children have experienced within the pack and den – to the point of one child being physically hurt by another and whose family left the pack last year.  When I had informed the den leader about it – as well as when I informed the chairwoman – nothing was done to stop or correct it.  So, this is yet another issue that is not taken seriously by pack leadership. 

When I received no responses from either of the charter organization representatives (priests), I contacted the district council representative, both by e-mail and by phone.  I spoke with him for about 20 minutes by phone, and he was supportive of me that I was a concerned enough parent to raise the issues of privacy and safety – not only for my child, but for all of the children – to the pack leadership.  I stated to him, however, that the pack leadership did not see it that way.  Unfortunately, he also declined from being officially involved in the matter unless no resolution could be obtained with the pack leadership and church leadership that charters the pack.  Therefore, I contacted the church office in an effort to arrange a meeting between interested parties to obtain a positive resolution to these matters. 

On discovering that the head pastor was out of the country for two weeks, he had recently returned to the area, and two days following my phone request to arrange a meeting, he e-mailed everyone, providing his availability for a meeting, and stating that all other e-mail communications about the matter should cease, otherwise he would not be involved.  He further stated that it did not matter to him whether or not the Boy Scouts of America, Supreme Court, or some other international tribunal was involved in the matters.  I took that to say that he really did not desire to be involved, and that is also what I experienced at the meeting that was held.

In the midst of these matters, I also consulted and communicated with a great many people in scouting who are familiar with these types of issues, questions, and concerns.  From a couple of them, I received little to no support, however several others were very supportive, agreeing that I had a legitimate concern – as I also believed – for the privacy and safety of my child and the other children – and that particular policies regarding such a matter were not followed.  From one experienced and knowledgeable former scout employee, I obtained information providing that a unit photographer should have accompanied the professional photographer at the event; and that the entire leadership committee should have been involved in the decision about the professional photographer.

That same former scout employee contact also informed me that neither the pack, nor the chartered organization have the authority to create contracts because they are not considered legal entities.  My question would also wonder why a scout mom could hire an outside professional photographer to come in and take photos of every scout and their siblings at a scouting event, without the parents’ advance notice and permission.  Another experienced scout executive further stated to me that while he believed that the photography was acceptable, parents should have been provided with an official Boy Scout form, stating whether or not they desired to have any type of photos taken of their child.  That was not done in regard to me and my family, nor to my knowledge with any other scout family in the pack.

It must also be noted that one day prior to the meeting, the chairwoman e-mailed parents and informed them that a photographer was present at the Derby, and that photos could be obtained from her of their child(ren).  That would not have occurred had I not expressed my concerns about privacy and safety for the children, and encouraged her to inform everyone.

Armed with all of this helpful information, I attended the meeting between the priest who was the chartered organization representative, the pack leadership committee chairwoman, and the den leader.  The parish priest absolutely grilled me about why I had a concern about privacy and safety of my child and the other children regarding the professional photographer.  Of course, I explained that I was not informed in advance, nor provided an opportunity to opt-out.  I further explained that when I see someone in the pack whom I have never before seen, and he is photographing my child and every other child, I have a legitimate concern. 

The words and conduct of the priest were entirely unethical and unprofessional, and he basically supported the lack of seriousness, ethics, and professionalism about this matter in the manner that it was handled by pack leadership.  At one point, the priest even laughed about the situation of informing us to take the issue to the Supreme Court or higher authority, and also told me that I should have “gone along” with the photography situation.

None of the other three individuals at the particular meeting took my concerns seriously, nor treated me with any respect whatsoever.  The behavior exhibited by all three was bullyish toward me and my family, and reflective of their own intolerance and lack of insight in the matter.  By far, the most offensive person toward me was the priest!  He negatively escalated the situation beyond repair, which I believe was his actual intention.  The anger, hatred, and misogyny that he directed at me was absolutely incredible!  He stated to me that my concerns were inappropriate and over the top, having caused people to become fearful of me; I said that I had a legitimate concern, and did not agree with his characterization of me or my concerns. 

When I stated that my family has been involved with that church parish for the past 12 years, having been faithful and contributing much, he had absolutely no appreciation for anything me or my family had done.  Last year, we  left membership of that parish and joined another parish affiliated with my child’s school; and the priest was quite adamant to point that out and throw it in my face.  I also stated, however, that we were still members of the parish when we joined the pack.  The priest even had some piece of paper that he slid over the table to me, reflecting that we left the parish, and I slid it back at him. 

So, I stated to the priest, therefore, that he also had his own personal issue with me because my family left that parish.  He then went on to inquire as to whether or not he and I had issues between each other in the past, and I replied that there were at least two.  I stated that regarding those two issues (that were of extremely high importance in relation to marriage and family healthcare issues), that he referred me to someone else or did not respond.  He, of course, did not recall the issues, and to me, it was apparent that he did not even believe they were important enough to remember.  There were also two occasions when I approached the parish in my financial need, and was turned away both times, being informed that the parish had no money to give, even though about $100,000 was provided to families in need during one particular year through the parish’s St. Vincent de Paul affiliation.

I also brought up the fact that, in the pack in which we were members prior to coming to our present pack, there were no types of issues of this nature at all – no privacy and safety issues, and no personal issues from pack leadership directed against us.  Last Spring, however, my son and me experienced a situation of a highly obscene and offensive nature from a scout mother in the pack – the same mother, by the way, who supposedly “hired” the professional photographer to take photos of all of the children at the Pinewood Derby.  I went through the appropriate channel of the pack leadership chairwoman regarding that issue, and stated that we were extremely offended, however that I did not desire the issue to be such that it created a negative situation for her or for us. 

Wouldn’t you know that, at the meeting to discuss my concerns about privacy and safety, that particular issue arose by the chairwoman and den leader, saying that it was blown out of proportion!  My son and me were the victims in this matter of this scout mom who behaved in an outlandishly obscene and offensive manner toward us!  How sad, now, that they are protecting and supporting her – the offender of the situation – rather than us as those who experienced it.  In psychology, that is called victim-blaming.  

All of this was yet another reflection to me that neither the pack leadership, nor the church leadership share the appropriate and needed values that should be present within the pack and the church.  Understand me clearly, now, that these are the leaders of both of these organizations.  When I hoped for understanding and consideration, me and my family received nothing but insults, offenses, and lack of professionalism, ethics, and values on all fronts.  That both the den leader and the priest called me a liar when I presented my simple and legitimate concerns about children’s privacy and safety, and that the issue was used as personal vendettas and attacks on me and my family by pack and church leadership, was highly offensive and a complete affront to me, as someone who is always looking out for the best interests of my son and the children. 

To further the affronts, the den leader has unreasonably and irrationally threatened legal action toward me over this issue – the simple issue of desiring privacy and safety of children.  Is this what the Boy Scouts of America stands for and supports – threats and defamation of character that have absolutely no basis?  This situation is truly incredible, and has become unnecessarily unreasonable and traumatic for me and my family.

Therefore, I could see that, ultimately, the best positive resolution for me and my family related to these issues was to leave the pack.  Also, when I asked all present at the meeting for a promise that such a privacy/safety issue would not occur again in the future, no one responded, and therefore, I received no guarantee that this same type of thing would not occur again.  We had been members of the pack for about two years, always being faithfully involved and supportive, contributing much to the fundraisers as well as in officially volunteering for the pack, and in my son gaining much enjoyment, achievement, and socialization with other kids.  Currently, scouting has been his only extra-curricular activity, and as an only child, is something that, overall, he has truly enjoyed over most other types of activities. 

Additionally, at least I was able to locate the photographer’s name and business address, online, based on the business name that the pack chairwoman provided to me; and I both e-mailed and mailed my nonconsent for his use of his photos of my son taken at the Derby without my advance notice or permission.  I should not have had to go through all of what I did simply to ensure the safety and privacy of my son.  This situation would have never occurred had pack leadership informed parents in advance and provided the opportunity to opt-out.

Hopefully, we will find another pack in which we can experience peace, fairness, a safe environment, common sense, and courtesy.  If there is an absence of locating such a group, I will be hesitant to remain involved with scouting at all if my legitimate concerns are going to be turned around against me and my family as personal attacks, making our experience unnecessarily painful and detrimental.  I do not wish to be persecuted simply because my ethics, morals, values, standards, and expectations are higher than average.  We came to scouting for enjoyable experiences – mostly which we have had – however, I am not willing to subject my son and family to being hurt by folks who do not stand up for the right thing for children.  And, I’m not going to “go along” with what is wrong, and against my values and principles.  Those who go along with what is wrong and do not stand for what is right are not leaders to me, and such people blindly take an organization or institution astray due to their own dysfunctional conduct.

By the way, I informed the district council representative yesterday, briefly, by e-mail of what transpired in the meeting.  He personally responded to me by e-mail, stating that Boy Scouts of America is thankful for families such as mine, and is appreciative of my handling of the privacy and safety concern at hand.  He also wished us well, and offered his assistance in helping us locate and become involved with another pack that is basically more in line with our own values.

“The Many Ways in Which School Children are Bullied by School Employees” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Bullying and retaliation are issues that have come to the forefront of our society in recent years.  There is bullying in schools.  There is bullying in the workplace.  There is bullying in social organizations.  There is bullying that occurs in society, in general.  Bullies, themselves, feel good and empowered when they bully others.  They get to throw their weight around, intimidating, degrading, ridiculing, humiliating others.  Bullying in schools definitely creates a downward spiral in the morale of the school.  When students must protect themselves from their bullyish peers as well as adults who are bullies, a stressful and hostile atmosphere is present at schools for these children.

Many victims of bullying keep it to themselves, thinking they can handle it, and they often end up being more taunted, more bullied, and then, the bullying escalates.  Some victims of bullying are pushed over the edge, believe they are worthless, are convinced that they are nothing, and kill themselves.  Other victims of bullying try to stand up for themselves – some are successful in defeating and overcoming their bullies, while others are disbelieved and/or do not receive the support they need from adults to whom they go for help.

In schools, sometimes students get a double whammy with bullying.  Not only are they bullied by certain peers, but they are also bullied by particular adults who are school employees of the school.  What is worse is when the very leaders of the school practice bullying through policies that lack sensitivity, flexibility, and understanding.  Policies in which minor mistakes and insignificant misbehaviors of children such as talking without permission, for example, are enforced by requiring students to run several laps, serve a lengthy detention, or in some schools, be paddled, are excessive, unnecessary, and reflect an authoritarian, punitive, unforgiving, and bullying atmosphere in the school. 

In one school with which I am familiar, a parent survey was issued to students’ families within the past one year that asked many questions about various factors related to the quality of the school.  Regarding bullying, 26% of respondents reported that bullying is a problem at the school.  What is truly sad is that bullying is more of an issue regarding adults bullying students than with students bullying students.  And, of course, when students see adults bullying their peers, they believe it is acceptable, and bully their peers, as well.  What is even more sad is that the adults who are bullies and whose policies are bullyish do not recognize it, they do not care, and the situation worsens, becoming more institutionalized.

There are many ways in which school children are bullied by school employees in schools.  Some of those ways include: 1) issuing excessive disciplinary consequences and punishments for minor misbehaviors; 2) requiring students to run laps as punishment and/or discipline; 3) not providing, denying, ignoring, and/or overlooking needed services to the student; 4) not contacting the parents or guardians when the student has been severely injured at school; 5) denying a sick child the opportunity to see the school nurse or clinician and to go home; 6) denying and/or preventing the student from receiving guidance counseling or other counseling services when requested; 7) not reporting actual abuse or neglect of students to the proper authorities; and 8) issuing unspoken punishments to students that are not identified in the school and/or student handbook.

Additional ways that school employees bully school children include: 9) issuing punishments and/or disciplinary consequences that are more excessive than what is identified in the school and/or student handbook; 10) blaming the child for misbehavior that the adult could have improved by providing the child with greater care and understanding; 12) not recognizing and/or praising the student for outstanding academics or accomplishments; 13) outright lying about and/or misconstruing the truth about situations involving the child; 14) not keeping confidences about the child; and 15) different school employees throughout the school stating that the child needs various evaluations, assessments, therapies, counseling, remediations, etc. when these are not and/or may not necessary.  The latter factor also occurs when school employees make these determinations when they are unqualified to do so; for example, they are not physicians, psychologists, or other qualified and unbiased healthcare professionals.  

There are also many other ways children are bullied in schools by school employees, and those ways are not limited to those that I have identified here.  Some more of those ways include: 16) school employees, including particular school administrators and/or teachers maintaining and carrying out a personal vendetta out of anger toward the child; 17) having nothing good to say or share about the child to parents or others; 18) calling the child’s parents in for meetings and/or conferences about the child and/or the parent, simply as a way to attempt to intimidate, harass, or otherwise bully; 19) basically behaving in an unprofessional manner, such as saying one thing, but doing the opposite toward the child or regarding a particular situation; and 20) school administrators also requiring other school employees throughout the school to also perform any of these identified unprofessional actions without question toward the child or the child’s parents, and if they do not do so, they (and/or their own children if their children are students at the school) experience various negative consequences.

Additionally and to compound the situation of school employees bullying school children, any multitute of the above-identified situations can be occurring toward the child at any given time.  For example, five of the particular situations may be occurring toward the child during one week.  In these instances, school employees are working with each other – and against the child – essentially using the child as their whipping post.  This is not only extremely detrimental to the child, but it is bad for the school’s reputation.

When these types of bullying actions toward school children occur by the very adults who have been entrusted with their care, well-being, and safety, it leaves the children on their own, to fend for themselves.  If a teacher and/or administrator simply does not like a particular child or that child’s parent, in my experience, I have found that punishments and/or disciplinary consequences toward that child are much more severe and unfair than they are toward other students.

When families pay extra monies for their children to attend private or parochial schools, the expectation is that those schools are of a higher standard than public schools, in every area – education, discipline, safety, fairness, faith foundation, services, etc.  Certainly, families have to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of particular schools and/or school systems, and find the best complement for their child. 

Sometimes, despite all good intentions and communications with authority figures within the school regarding what can be improved or changed to help benefit the students and the school, including school retention when better practices and policies are exercised, things do not change, and in fact, worsen.  Sometimes policies become even more excessive and increasingly punitive.  Sometimes there is a change in the leadership, and the new leaders are more authoritarian and believe in doling out harsh consequences.  This does not mean that such policies are acceptable or ethical.  Perhaps many students’ families simply tolerate the policies because other educational alternatives to that particular school may be even worse.  One does not want to jump out the frying pan, into the fire, so to speak.

Therefore, I am a person who believes in, suggests, and encourages compassion, understanding, and sensitivity toward children and school students.  Harsh and excessive disciplinary policies effected on young school children for minor misbehaviors teach children that the world comes crashing down on them and they are condemned by school employees if they are not perfect all of the time.  It also teaches that adults in authority at school who are punitive are also unforgiving toward them for minor misbehaviors or mistakes.  Such authority figures are not serving as positive role models or guides for the children, but teachers of severe and unnecessary consequences for rather insignificant issues. 

This is how a bullyish atmosphere is created and maintained within a school by the adults within the school.  This is how bullying becomes a problem within schools – when adults bully children, and children, in turn, bully their peers.  Schools and school leaders can sugar coat and ignore the issue all they want, but things will not change for the better or improve unless they, themselves, recognize their own bullyish policies and change them to being more compassionate and understanding.  That is where true leadership lies – in providing positive guidance and in being positive role models for students, rather than in being excessively and unnecessarily punitive and unforgiving.  The teachings of Jesus also follow that philosophy.  

Therefore, schools must not only be progressive rather than regressive in their policies, but school leaders must actively exercise those positive and progressive policies.  School leaders must implement policies that are beneficial, positive, protective, and guiding for students.  School leaders and educators must also reflect on and enact ways of improving themselves and their own philosophies and perspectives.  In this way, everyone will benefit – the students, students’ families, school employees, and the school system.  This is what is necessary in every school and in every school system, and it is a basic expectation of all students and parents.  Let’s keep working to improve our schools and the policies that are practiced within them for the benefit of everyone, most particularly the children who are the youngest and most impressionable of all.