Who Failed Phoebe Prince?
High school was hell for 15-year-old Phoebe Prince, but it didn’t have to be deadly.
SUSAN WILSON, WHOSE SON BEN is an SHHS freshman, in March cohosted a benefit for the Prince family at Adelfia, a South Hadley restaurant and function hall. Phoebe’s friend Cliodhna Shannon flew in from Ireland and sang Taylor Swift’s “Breathe” for a crowd of more than 200. Wilson says not a single school administrator showed up.
The $7,000 that was raised from benefit ticket sales and raffles went entirely to the Princes. O’Brien says Phoebe’s mother and sister want to remain in South Hadley, though now four of the Prince children are back in Ireland, one in a casket. In April, the Princes retained Springfield attorney Rebecca Bouchard, a high school teacher turned attorney who specializes in advocating for children who are victims of abuse. Bouchard did not respond to requests for comment.
As for Sayer, his contract was due to expire at the end of this month, but in April the South Hadley School Committee voted unanimously to extend it. Boisselle, meanwhile, stepped down as committee chairman, though not, he says, because of anything to do with Phoebe. He remains on the board.
Not long ago, SHHS’s new task force invited Jim McCauley and Larry Berkowitz from the Riverside Trauma Center in Needham to speak to parents about recognizing suicidal tendencies in teenagers. “Ninety to 95 percent of suicides betray underlying issues,” Berkowitz told the crowd of about 80. “But at the same time, it’s entirely preventable.”
At that meeting, Smith reassured parents that the school encourages students to talk to counselors, pairs kids in a sort of buddy system, and tries to “provide the greatest support that we can.” A new anti-bullying policy will go into effect in September at SHHS, though the task force is still deciding what, exactly, the policy will entail.
Until this spring, Massachusetts was one of only nine states without a law against bullying or requiring schools to regulate it. In late April, lawmakers approved a measure requiring staff to report bullying incidents and principals to investigate them. Teachers and administrators now must undergo training that would help them recognize and respond to bullying. It’s up to the principal whether to report incidents to the police. While a step forward, the law could be strengthened with provisions like those in other states.
In Georgia, for instance, administrators must get victims out of harm’s way by transferring a bully to another school after three offenses in one school year. In Ohio, schools are required to give parents access to any written records about incidents involving their child. Such measures come at a time when American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry statistics show that half of all children are bullied at some time during their school years, and at least 10 percent endure it regularly. More than 160,000 children stay home from school daily because of bullying, according to National Education Association estimates. “How are you supposed to concentrate in math class when you’re trying to figure out how to get to English safely?” Coloroso says.
“Ultimately, parents have to be on top of what’s happening. Say, ‘You don’t want to snitch? I’ll snitch for you.’ We adults have to have some role. Kids cannot do this all on their own.”