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February 25th, 2013
10:32 AM ET

Fighting for your bullied child

Programming note: Learn more about Alex’s story and see how he has transformed from bullying victim to advocate in the AC360° documentary “The Bully Effect” on Thursday, February 28 at 10 p.m. ET and March 3 and 9 at 8 p.m. ET.

The bullying Jackie Libby’s son, Alex, faced every day was so severe that she worried the emotional toll would drive him to suicide.

“I would lay up with my husband at night and … just cry and say … what if he decides he doesn’t want to be here anymore? I mean, at that point, there was really only one more way to disengage. He was failing out of school. He wasn’t involved with his family at all. He didn’t want to have anything to do with his siblings. He didn’t have any friends,” Libby said. “There was only one more way for him to get out.”

Alex first spoke about his tormentors not to his mother but on camera to documentary filmmaker Lee Hirsch in what would become the award-winning film “Bully.”

“They punch me in the jaw, strangle me. They knock things out of my hand, take things from me, sit on me,” Alex said in the movie. “They push me so far that I want to become the bully.”

The footage Hirsch captured of Alex being beaten on the school bus was so shocking that the filmmaker felt a moral imperative to show it to Alex’s mother and officials at his school in Sioux City, Iowa. For Libby, it was the beginning of a battle for justice for her son. “My reaction was, I just started bawling, and then I got angry,” she said.

She immediately met with an assistant principal at her son’s school but did not get the results she hoped for. “I did go in there originally, when Lee told us what was going on with Alex, with the idea that all I had to do was go in and say ‘this is what’s happening.’ We’d show them the footage like Lee showed us, and they would fix it,” Libby said. “That didn’t happen.”

The response from the school was to offer to move Alex to another bus route, but the assistant principal admitted that he could become a victim of bullying no matter which bus he rode to school. The school also questioned all of Alex’s tormentors and gave them warnings, but unfortunately the abuse didn’t stop.

“Everything that happened to me on that bus happened to me every day, if not worse,” Alex said. “Some of them I grew up with, but they turned on me because they didn’t want to get bullied.”

Libby continued the fight and, after multiple meetings with the school, moved up the ladder to the superintendent. “If they don’t listen, find out who’s above them. If they don’t listen, find out who’s above them. Just keep going up, because at some point, somebody’s going to listen,” she said.

For the Libbys, while they had met with the highest official they could, the bullying continued and then spread to Alex’s younger sister.

“I got a call … saying there was an altercation with my daughter at the same school,” Libby said. “I walked in, and Maya was bawling, and the side of her face was black and blue and swollen … and she got punched in the face on the playground. Ultimately, we just decided it wasn’t a battle we were going to win on our own. So, we left.”

They first transferred their children to a school across town and eventually moved to a suburb of Oklahoma City. The family spent weeks researching school systems before deciding where to live, and Libby even walked the halls of potential new schools to soak up the school climate.

While she admits that’s not an option for a lot of families, for hers, it was the right one.

“With a child … it’s your job to protect them. I mean, from the day they are born, it is inset into you that they become more of your responsibility than even yourself. So when you’re losing them or they’re fading or you can’t save them, ultimately, you feel like a failure,” she said. “No parent ever stops trying.”

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Filed under: Bullying • The Bully Effect
soundoff (149 Responses)
  1. Rodney

    I understand why some kids get bullied. Reading this story I have not read anything about a parent to parent confrontation.The parents must be punks too, especially the dad. As a man I'm going to deal with bullying in the school only once. After that I'm going find out where the kids live and bully the parents until it stop. If you want to stop bullying make the parents feel the wrath and pay for their child mistakes and or their lack of parenting.

    February 25, 2013 at 4:10 pm |
  2. MikeyZ

    Perhaps criminal litigation or appealing to the school administration's sense of legal justice is not the solution.

    Perhaps a wide-net civil lawsuit is in order instead. Sue the school, sue the district, sue the parents of the offending children, and simply see what sticks. Make them pay money. Do it repeatedly until someone takes notice and acts in appropriate measure to the crime.

    Civil justice merely requires preponderance of evidence, not reasonable doubt. The beauty of it is that it tends to favor those who are subjectively disenfranchised, such as victims of bullies. People look at those videos and want to do something about it but are often helpless to act. Put that video in front of a civil jury, and they will act.

    February 25, 2013 at 4:00 pm |
  3. Miguel Aldana

    My kids attend Rochelle Park, NJ Middland school. I hear cases of bullying but no one does anything about. Teachers, princial and parents are friends. I think the media and the subject is bigger than the solucion offered.

    February 25, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
  4. Dedos

    is that a solution??? can you charge them criminally??
    surely there has to be another option...

    February 25, 2013 at 3:49 pm |
  5. Jason

    Like a lot of kids, I was also bullied in school... especially elementary and middle school. Fortunately I made it through, but a lot of kids don't... or worse, they become abusers. I'm rather sickened that there is still an opinion with a vocal minority in this country that bullying is "fine" or even worse that it's a good thing... that we need bullying so that the nation will not become soft.

    February 25, 2013 at 3:43 pm |
  6. Alan

    No child should ever have to suffer at the hands of bullies. As the father of 2 young daughters, this is truly sad.

    February 25, 2013 at 3:41 pm |
  7. Austin Clark

    That's not "bullying," that's assault. If someone struck an adult in the face like that they'd be in jail.

    February 25, 2013 at 3:40 pm |
  8. Vlad

    I find it really short sighted that the modern upbringing ignores the notions of honor, dignity, and decency. And the parents are the first to blame. I see parents behaving dishonestly and dishonorably with the staff all the time, and few people will call the bullying parents on that because they don't want the hassle. Adults are much better than children at concealing their bullying behavior, but they are the example that the children follow.

    February 25, 2013 at 3:39 pm |
  9. AlexanderE81

    This is the problem when parents don't teach their sons how to fight anymore. My father taught me how to stand my ground. When my father was younger he was constantly bullied, then my grandmother "God bless her" filled his lunch box full of washers. A few swats to the head with a lunch box full of washers and the bullying stopped. I'm going to teach my kids how to fight in self defense, every school age child should know how to fight.

    February 25, 2013 at 3:38 pm |
  10. Bill

    From my experience of school, where not only did I have to deal with bullying (at least I was big enough to fight back), all of it could have been easily stopped if adults actually took the time to find out what was going on. One small boy, was ruthlessly attacked by a group on a daily basis, and the teachers actually blamed him when he acted out. Who would not? He did nothing to deserve the treatment. Kids who do not participate in it have a tendency, as the author used an example above, to participate in it so they will not be victims. If they had even bothered to stand outside when the children were entering the school, they could have stopped a lot of it. In some cases, the teachers contributed to the problem by calling children names themselves. I have small children entering school now, and I can say that I will be extremely vigilant. Children do not like to tell their parents for fear of making it worse or because they are embarrased, so it is our duty to ask questions.

    February 25, 2013 at 3:37 pm |
  11. Helen Sandwick

    Everyone who knew about this in the entire school system needs to (a) lose their job (b) made to explain their lack of action – why weren't the bully parents made to watch the video so they could be so proud of their little bullies who should have been expelled and (c) made to come up with a plan that would prevent this from happening again. It is an abomination that should never be allowed to get this far. Obviously the bullies did not take any threat seriously. Being expelled would have removed them from the bus and the school, hopefully the entire school district. They will grow up to contribute nothing to their community but problems if their behavior is not dealt with.

    February 25, 2013 at 3:34 pm |
  12. Bob

    Most of these schools only care about money. They only care about getting the kids into seats for attendance so they can get the government dollars. To truly get them to change, you simply have to make it financially impossible for them to ignore the problem. Individual parents should sue them. When the school district realizes it is spending more on lawyers than what it would cost to put high quality cameras on buses and in the halls (a couple hundred dollars a pop- compare how much a lawyer costs per hour), they will do it. Government should also withhold money from schools that don't have a comprehensive policy for dealing with bullying. Schools have zero tolerance for bringing a toy gun or knife to school, so why not a zero-bullying policy?

    February 25, 2013 at 3:32 pm |
  13. stefano

    I blame the parents.

    February 25, 2013 at 3:32 pm |
  14. Jameserizer

    Bullying is a terrible problem which transcends the act itself, because it often results in life-long damage to the bullied. They often develop self-esteem and initiative issues that can deeply compromise their life's potential. If you are the parent of a bullied kid, the problem can grow to almost existential dimensions: your beloved child is the victim of systematic torture by other kids (the bullies) at school and elsewhere, and the damage is acutely visible to any observant, caring parent.

    Bullying is symptomatic of more than just adolescent behaviors, it is indicative of larger cultural trends which should be manifest in popular awareness: Generally speaking, bullies grow up to be republicans (conservatives) and bullied victims grow up to be democrats (liberals). This is not a partisan slander on my part at all. I am a member of neither party but inhabit the middle ground. I draw this conclusion by reflecting my own life-long experience in communicating with both conservatives and liberals. I want to inject this truth into the discussion, because bullying is not just a childhood phenomena.3

    February 25, 2013 at 3:30 pm |
  15. bob

    I dont believe your story. This is not the way people react to bullies.

    February 25, 2013 at 3:30 pm |
  16. Jorge

    The reason physical assault on the street is a crime is twofold, in order to provide a deterrent against it, and to provide the victim with a recourse other than violent, sometimes lethal retaliation. This is within the logic of the rule of law, and it makes sense. One of the reasons gang culture is proliferating among our youth is because school systems are failing miserably as the temporal guardians/caretakers of the safety of our youth while in their custody. I say force school systems and parents to have more skin in the game, criminalize not only school bullying, but negligence on the part of school personnel to act on it, and make the parents of injurious and slanderous school bullies more liable in civil court, just like in the adult world, which is something school kids should be preparing for anyway. Either that, or be ready for more wild-west drama within our schools. Everybody has a limit for abuse, some self destruct, others lash out in self-defense, sometimes incredibly violently. It's time for school systems to grow up and take professional responsibility.

    February 25, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
  17. billmosby

    I was only mildly bullied, from about 5th to 9th grade. Then I had the good fortune that I outgrew the bullies. Besides that, their attention shifted to a couple of "juicer" targets. One was an unfortunate guy who had trouble relating to anybody. The other was a reform-school product who was a couple of years older than the rest of us and who could have killed the bully with his bare hands, but was trying to leave his past behind him and go straight. The abuse he took was unbelievable- the bullies were trying to provoke him into doing something stupid that would get him sent back into the justice system-, but in the end the bullies failed. He knew what they didn't and where they were ultimately headed if they didn't reform themselves.

    February 25, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
  18. John

    You can run, moving bus routes, schools, suburbs and cities, but until you learn to stand up for yourself and gain respect from your peers, you can expect to be an outcast. The film makers and Alex's involvement in an anit-bullying campaign have clearly given him that confidence. I found mine through scuffles with my bullies. We roughed each other up a little, got a stern talking to, and moved on, even becoming somewhat decent friend. I am of the opinion that zero tolerance fighting polices and serious disciplinary action for playground scuffles instead of just getting the boys to talk about it and shake hands like gentlemen (or ladies) forces students to suffer in fear of the school reprimanding them for sticking up for themselves.
    And while I agree it is the parent's job to protect their child, it is also their job to teach the child to fight their own battles and how to utilize the resources available to them to deal with their problems.

    February 25, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
  19. James Cheatham

    Doesn't this fall under the heading of "Assault"? Seems to me there's also a case for negligence on the part of the school system. Go after the kids, the parents and the schools system and make it cost and things will change.

    February 25, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
  20. Ron Clarke

    What about prosecution for assault and battery. Black and blue, and swollen? Teachers and Administration should be prosecuted child endangerment for allowing this to happen.
    Since the family moves away, no one is being held accountable, the bullies or the authoriites.

    February 25, 2013 at 3:14 pm |
  21. Avi

    So, that is the solution? Move to a different place?

    I am surprised that in a litigative society such as ours, parents of bullying victims not taking the legal route. Sue the parents of the bully. They are the bully's guardians. S/he is their responsibility and they are liable for their wards actions.

    Also, there is no point having a name sake 'zero tolerance' against bullying. These kids not only need to be thrown out of school after a first warning, they should also be sent to juvenile prison for a brief period. They really need a good time out to reflect upon their actions.

    February 25, 2013 at 3:13 pm |
  22. theala

    Good for you, Mrs. Libby.

    I went through this in the 8th grade, was beaten black and blue and left to lie on a couch in the principals office all day long. The principal refused to allow the secretary to call my mother or call 911. I had to be helped onto the bus, and the bus driver had to help me off the bus and into the house because I could not walk on my own. I had a bad concussion.

    That was the culmination of three years of bullying at that school. Moving on to high school helped some (the worst of it stopped, though not all). The adults needs to stop with the "kids will be kids" and put a stop to it. The kids are enabled by adult passivity.

    February 25, 2013 at 3:13 pm |
  23. Manish Gupte, PhD

    The easiest way to stop bullying is be good, focus on studies, not waste time with nonsense. Then, if somebody bullies, remember all the nonsense he or she is doing. Make sure there is some simple and easy way to tell the Principal that, that bully actually did what you are saying. The Principal will act.We call it Maka-nizam. Maka is "mother's" and Nizam, no one likes..mechanism from game theory..

    February 25, 2013 at 3:12 pm |
  24. Bob Dobbs

    Parents, if the bullying gets this bad, press charges. Don't move. Don't let the bullies "win". Press charges. Assault is assault, regardless of whether or not children are involved. Furthermore, if the school district doesn't take adequate steps to protect the bullied, take them to the cleaners (i.e. court). Usually, even the thought that there are going to be legal/financial repercussions is enough to cause action to be taken. If not, you'll be able to have a private tutor for your children on the new island that you own with your lawsuit money.

    February 25, 2013 at 3:12 pm |
  25. DanS

    What I don't understand is that, if you are an adult and you punch somebody in the face, you go to jail. Why is it acceptable for our kids to act out violently? Maybe if we start holding parents accountable for their children they will either stop having them or teach them how to not act like little animals.

    February 25, 2013 at 3:06 pm |
  26. Leigh

    My brother was bullied in elementary school for being quiet. We came from an alcoholic household and did not have much parenting. My response was to work hard in school -his was to retreat. He would get teased and beat up, but he had no one to tell. By middle school he got bigger and by high school he was over 6ft and very handsome. Suddenly, he was popular. But he also learned to hide his big heart and sensitivity. I really think because of the bullying his life is completely different than it could have been. There is a sadness in him that breaks my heart. Once,after a few drinks, he opened up and cried about his childhood – being bullied and feeling like there was no one to help him. Over 30 years later, this big man reduced to tears. This is why i get angry at people who insist bullying is a part of life or that it makes you stronger. Bullying takes a real piece of you and destroys it.

    February 25, 2013 at 3:05 pm |
  27. samnet45

    I would have gone to the parents of the offending children. If that would have not gone anywhere I would have filed formal charges on the children, their parents and the school.

    February 25, 2013 at 3:01 pm |
  28. Andrea

    Bullying isn't going to stop until school officals and parents of bullies take it seriously. Children should not have to go to school and be bullied and then not have anyone to turn to for help. It's a shame that these parents had to move away to protect their children

    February 25, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
  29. Lisa

    I wonder if they ever tried showing the footage to the bullies' parents. I would, and I would definitely threaten the parents with legal action if they didn't contain their little darlings' behavior. I haven't seen the film, but I really hope none of the faces are blurred out.

    February 25, 2013 at 2:56 pm |
  30. joe joe ma

    Maybe she might want to figure out what's wrong with her kid rather than focusing on people that are clearly pointing out that her kid needs mental help.

    February 25, 2013 at 2:56 pm |
  31. Ginger

    Where are the parents of the bullies? Why can't charges be pressed? Why arent we knocking on the door of the parents of the bullies? I know there is a bunch of legal mumbojumbo you probably have to go through, but you touch my kids I'm calling the cops, I'm calling social services on the parents of the bully. There is no excuse for this to happen. Sorry for my rant, but I have no tolerance for this. And if my child is the bully I want someone to come to me.

    February 25, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
  32. Mike

    God help the family of a bully that would do that to one of my children – and that school would feel the full wrath of my attorney with a BS response that that mother got.

    February 25, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
  33. jermaine

    How far will i go if i find out my child is being bullied? Im telling you right now, I will find out who the bully parents are and go straight to them and if it leads to violence then so be it...

    February 25, 2013 at 2:35 pm |
  34. jevvim

    Why does the school always offer to move the victim of bullying – to a new route, a new classroom, or a new school – and cause them even more trouble, rather than moving the bully to somewhere else? Perhaps these bullies know they are in an environment where no one punishes them for their actions, so they are enabled by this pattern of making the victim move. Let's start reassigning bullies to other routes and other classrooms, let's take them out of their enabling environment and make them the "black sheep" that transferred to a new school, rather than expecting a previously bullied kid to go to a new class or school and build a new social support network. Let's stop using the system to further bully the victims, who are just seeking help to avoid violent behavior.

    February 25, 2013 at 2:30 pm |
  35. Anthony Coggins

    There is nothing stronger than the love of a parent for their child. God bless all of you involved...

    February 25, 2013 at 2:29 pm |
  36. GailS

    We need a no-tolerance approach to bullies—children and adults. Children should be expelled from school and adults should be fired from their jobs.

    February 25, 2013 at 2:29 pm |
  37. Terri Baker

    It takes alot of inner strength, Alex to stand up to bullies and break the cycle of abuse. That isn't an easy thing to do. You are an inspiration. Keep fighting the good fight.

    February 25, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
  38. Leeford

    What do you expect in this new era of:
    I will never whip my kids
    I will put them on mental drugs if they even hint at a possible disorder.
    I will teach them not to fight back but to run away.

    February 25, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
  39. Johnny

    Sadly, their situation is the norm. The kid being bullied and the family have to uproot and move so they can feel some sense of security instead of the aggressors being held accountable. What a joke society has become. But I also have to question whether bullying has become that much more aggressive since I was a kid 30 years ago, or does it just seem that way because of all the media reports?

    February 25, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
  40. Brad

    If a child is attacked on the school bus – that is assault and battery. Plain and simple. Not only is the child that did the assault responsible but so is the bus driver and the school. The buses should have cameras placed to record behavior, the child who did the assault arrested, the bus driver should be arrested for accessory and the schooled should be sued for not enforcing rules. If the school still does not do anything, the principal should be arrested for criminal negligence. It is time that school system follows the law and is just as responsible as any work place. It is time that children should be treated as adults and have the right to the same safety among their peers as does a workplace. This is completely unacceptable.

    February 25, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
  41. Marc

    Stop teaching children it's not ok to hit. Teach them it's totally ok to defend yourself or protect someone else. Parents also have to stand up for their children. Don't go into the principal's office after you KNOW your kid was bullied and accept anything but an apology from the school for allowing your child to be bullied..

    February 25, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
  42. Tom

    Why is the school and the adminisrators and the bus driver and the parents of the bullies not named here?

    February 25, 2013 at 2:01 pm |
  43. Linda

    I've heard that some parents have sued school districts because they did nothing to stop the bullying and they've won the lawsuits. I'm glad that the family was able to move away and I hope things are better for them now but I'm wondering why didn't they sue the school...and the bullies' parents? Maybe if they had to cough up a good chunk of cash, they wouldn't be so quick to minimize the bullying.

    February 25, 2013 at 2:00 pm |
  44. Ralto Fox

    Bullying is becoming more rampant because our society has created a generation that is selfish, unhappy, and irresponsible. They basic concept of right and wrong has been lost due to bad parenting and expecting schools and the media to raise our kids.

    February 25, 2013 at 1:59 pm |
  45. ron

    There family needs to do one more thing if it is going to stop bullying at this school and in all other schools. It needs to bring a lawsuit against the school for permitting this activity to go on (schooll bus driver knew about it) and after the complaint was filed with the school and the superintendents office. Further the students involved needed to be prosecuted for their activities. If the family does not take action as discribed above the students and the school will get away with the wrong. Once the rest of the country understands the severity of the consequences if they particiatpe in such activity and the schools underestand its exposure for not stopping it will stop. We can not wait for another child to commit suicide before the school district becomes liable for its failure to protect its children before and after it is aware of the bullying and the kids who arre bullying are held accountable. If the parents can not afford the law suit there are organizations who will be willing to step up. They need to act now.

    February 25, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
  46. Fiona

    The behavior of the kids doing the bullying is horrible, but I'm not sure what jackie Libby and her husband expected school officials (the superintendant?) to do, other than what they offered. Kids have always and will always be horrid to the weaker, outsider children. You can have all sorts of pop-psych counseling sessions at school assemblies, but you won't change humankind. Bullying goes on in adulthood, too.

    While schools have a responsibility to keep order among the students, promote good values and punish bad behavior, the ultimate responsibility for protecting your children andd teaching them to survive in the world lies with you, the parents. Moving these kids to a new school to start over was a good choice. But stop blaming the schools!

    February 25, 2013 at 1:55 pm |
  47. JayT

    It's an odd phenomena that school's today will suspend or excel children for using their fingers as "guns" on the playground while paying cops and robbers during recess Yet they fail, and often, miserably at suspended and/or expelling students who regularly physically or mentally torment their peers on a daily basis.

    February 25, 2013 at 1:54 pm |
  48. Mattie

    Why weren't charges brought against these children and the school system... Or some kind of law suit???????? It seems to me that there was clear evidence of an assault on both her kids. If we as adults don't start doing something about our childrens' behavior this will never stop. Also, I believe that if we put harsher punishments on bullies then maybe these incidents will be come less frequent. I was bullied some in school, not this severe, but enough to drop out. SOMETHING HAS TO BE DONE... and what is being done obviously isn't enough!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    February 25, 2013 at 1:52 pm |
  49. travis

    odds are they won't do anything unless they we're throwing an imaginary grenade or pointing a water gun at him but a real case of bullying they'll just try to sweep it under the rug and act like it never happened

    February 25, 2013 at 1:47 pm |
  50. ron

    Why are they not moving the bullies- the kid getting picked on did nothing wrong.

    February 25, 2013 at 1:44 pm |
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