Bullying's Day in Court

Parents send a message by forcing bullies from the schoolhouse to the courthouse

ByABC News
February 18, 2009, 12:54 PM

July 15, 2008— -- Mathew Mumbauer, 11, never saw it coming. One moment in early March, he was walking down the stairs at Brickett Elementary School in Lynn, Mass. The next moment he was lying at the bottom of the stairs. He was left paralyzed and on a ventilator. Mathew's parents blame bullies who had been hounding Mathew for most of the year.

Mathew is only the latest victim of bullying in our schools, and some parents are turning from the schoolhouse to the courthouse to seek relief. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of students are anxiously counting down the days left in summer and the approach of another bullying season.

With the advent of the Internet, YouTube and MySpace, bullying is becoming more prevalent and more lethal —allowing bullies to move from playgrounds to cyberspace in pursuit of their prey. While the number of bullying lawsuits is unknown, some high-profile cases are focusing attention on the national problem.

Dealing with bullies has long been treated as just part of "growing up," a natural and even maturing element of childhood. Encounters with the ubiquitous bully in movies and literature are treated as a type of rite of passage, particularly for boys. From "the Ogre" in Revenge of the Nerds to Scut Farkas in A Christmas Story, the bullies always lose when you simply stand up to them, right?

Perhaps, or you can end up dead. Across the country, schoolchildren have been killed after standing up to bullies in places as wide-ranging as West Paducah, Ky., Edinboro, Pa., and Jonesboro, Ark.

A Video Hunt

Being a bully remains a popular choice for students, particularly in middle schools, where bullying often peaks. A 2004 survey by KidsHealth found that 40% of children from 9- to 13-years-old admitted to bullying. Another recent study prepared for the American Psychological Association showed that 80% of middle school students admitted to bullying behavior in the prior 30 days. Like Piggy in Lord of the Flies, a child can become a collective target — the object of a natural juvenile inclination to subordinate and isolate individuals. Just ask 15-year-old Billy Wolfe in Fayetteville, Ark.