Saturday, April 30, 2005

Caitlin Nolan: Never give in.

ABC News has named 15 year old Caitlin Nolan of Oak Ridge their Person of the Week. Instead of remaining a victim of bullying Caitlin has managed to get legislators to support the creation in every Tennessee public school of a formal policy prohibiting harrassment, intimidation and bullying and setting up consequences for such ill behavior via SB1621/HB2114.

I witnessed Caitlin's testimony in the Senate Education Committee on 4/13/05 and was impressed by her presence and knowledge of the legislation. Obviously, along with being an excellent high school student she's also been a good student of her father, lobbyist Bill Nolan. During the hearing Sen. Steve Cohen (D-Memphis) was concerned that penalties for false accusations weren't provided for and an amendment to cover that was written and approved.

What's amazing to me is that these sorts of situations, apparently, haven't been appropriately handled in local schools already. "Back when I was in school" this would have happened one time, and one time only. Of course, we still had smaller neighborhood schools and every teacher knew every family and every family knew each other which allows for a lot of accountability that we no longer have in our school systems and neighborhoods.

This situation should never have gotten so out of hand that it required the time and attention of the state legislature. Where were the parents, teachers, principals, superintendents, school boards and community members? How is it that they could't deal with this on their own and long ago? So will this really solve the problem? In my opinion all that really happened was the legislature is telling the schools systems "handle this". Something they should already have been doing.

A side issue is the fact that in the adult world, if someone harasses you you have legal recourse and you aren't compelled by law to stay in the same building with your harasser 5 days a week for 6 to 7 hours. Our children don't always have the ability to leave their harasser behind unless there are other education options available and the parents can afford to utilize them.

One young woman learned that sometimes you have to repeat your story over and over before the grownups really listen. I'm glad she didn't give up. I certainly hope the grownups do more than listen. It's way past time to act.

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