An anti-bullying workshop in Pennsylvania this week had the opposite effect administrators had intended. Instead of uniting the student body through shared understanding and sympathy, the West Allegheny Middle School in Imperial, Pa. finds itself the brunt of social media jokes and barbs tossed its way over the school’s bizarre “kindness workshop.” In effect, the school traded bullying of its kids for open mocking of its anti-bullying program.
All kidding aside, the school now faces a possible lawsuit.
Writes Pittsburgh’s CBS Local on Jan. 22: “At a special parent meeting Tuesday night, parents and taxpayers told KDKA’s Kym Gable that they’ve retained the services of a Pittsburgh attorney to pursue a possible class action lawsuit, claiming administrators infringed on students’ rights.”
In the program, middle schoolers were asked highly personal questions about themselves and their family members. According to parents, the answers did accomplish one thing — it opened their kids up to jeering and derision. Kids were put into a circle, then asked to move into the center of the circle if they could answer “yes” to such questions as: “Have you been impacted by drugs or alcohol?” “Have you ever been called fat?” and “Do you or someone close to you identify as being gay, lesbian or transgendered?”
Other questions focused on mental and physical disabilities, if the children worry about money, if any of their parents have ever been imprisoned (or oddly, if the children ever have), or if they are being raised in a single parent family. In the end, bullies essentially had a buffet of potential digs to choose from to harass their fellow students over.
Parents were irate when their kids came home and told them about the anti-bullying workshop. “I would never expect a middle school to ask 13-year-old kids if their parents have ever been in jail, if they are same-sex or if they are having financial issues,” said Marie Noelle-Briggs, who has children enrolled in the school.
Eighth graders who participated in the program were also required to reveal personal things about themselves while wearing masks. “That’s a huge, huge violation,” a parent who did not want to be identified told News Action 4. “That’s personal stuff. Kids have a hard enough time right now.”
The school district defended the program as being a nationally recognized way to get kids to “buy in” to anti-bullying. Still, the school said they are reaching out to the families who were upset by the program.
“If a student feels comfortable stepping in when a statement is read, what their peers are supposed to take away from that activity is a greater sensitivity to realize that ‘I’m not alone. I realize that there are other students that are struggling,'” commented District Superintendent Jerri Lynn Lippert, according to local news station WTSP.com.
Sound off below: Do you think this Pennsylvania anti-bullying workshop was a productive experience?