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. Roger

    As sorry as I am to hear about this family's difficulties, I must say that bullying in school is something that will never go away. It is a truly terrible thing, and I completely understand your concern for your son's well-being. Whenever there is a weaker or different individual, there will always be someone there to take advantage of them. And trying to fix it for your son, will actually worsen the bullying. I went through many years of bullying, from elementary through most of high school. I was miserable throughout most of my teenage years. All of that changed, when I decided to take stand-up for myself. I didn't even have to get into any physical altercations. I made the concious decision to stop living in fear and to let people know that they couldn't push me around. To all parents that have children that are victims of bullying, speaking to the school administration will not solve anything. Overcoming your fears and standing up for yourselves is unfortunately very difficult to do, but it is something that must be learned. Using violence isnt' even necessary. Teach your children to be able to talk things out, but to not bend over for anybody. If you have boys that are being bullied, teach them to hold themselves like men, to speak up for themselves and to be strong. I have been where this boy is, and believe me, it is not the end of the world. Once this boy finds the strength in himself, no bully will be able to hold this kid down. Just has to build up the courage to use it.

    February 25, 2013 at 8:09 pm |
  2. Jack

    SUCK IT UP....This is part of growing up. I was bullied and it sucked, but I survived. It didn't make me weak it made me stronger, and I over came it. So stop wining and buck up, let your kids fail, get picked on and, see what life is like. Then help them over come it and they will thank you for making them self relient.

    February 25, 2013 at 7:55 pm |
  3. Tammy

    Iam so sorry to hear what happened to your family and two children I feel for you as a family I worry for my son who is only four years old and what the future holds for him when he gets into bigger schools and pray nothing like that happens to my son or any other children this needs to get under some kind of control this bullying I fear because Iam a single mom and my son is my ONLY CHILD I only pray and hope for these victims and the ones doing the bullying get some help and understanding that the other children they are bullying they are children like them they need to go to school with and stop harrasing these children eventually there are going to be more problems with schools and the parents of the children who are doing the bullying and these schools need to put a stop to it and do something about it because its their job too

    February 25, 2013 at 7:48 pm |
  4. Dr. M. P. A. Sheaffer

    Good for the mother who did not give up, but a POX on those school officials at every level, who did NOTHING to stop that outrageous bullying. Where is that school board? Had I been a parent of a child who had suffered such pain, I would have insisted that the school board hold every one of those do-nothing administrators accountable and fired the whole lot of them for inaction.Perhaps such an action would "inspire" other administrators all over the country in whose jurisdiction severe bullying was taking place to take immediate steps to stop it–regardless of whose child[ren] were at fault–or else face immediate termination of their jobs. Thank goodness this family could relocate, but how many familities have that possibility? And what effect will this awful experience have upon those children–brother and sister–short-range and long-range?

    February 25, 2013 at 7:43 pm |
  5. Angelita

    My son was bullied because he was one of the few whites in a black and Hispanic majority. I went to the school. I told the teacher that if she did not do something to stop it, I would take it on her. Personally. The problem disappeared.

    February 25, 2013 at 7:37 pm |
  6. tammyk tammy

    When did our school officials lose their ability to act like adults in exerting discipline. Thirty years ago, my school bus driver stated the rules of riding on her bus and the consequences of breaking those rules at the beginning of every school year. And by God, she stuck by those rules. Mess up on her bus, and you would find yourself sitting up in the front seat with the first graders where she could watch you like a baby. Mess up more than once and you would find yourself there permanently. Mouth of to her about it and you would be expelled off the bus and the school supported her decision. Schools need to stop coddling the bullies and their parents. Be adults, set the rules and the consequences, let the bullies and their parents know what will not be tolerated.

    February 25, 2013 at 7:34 pm |
    • Audrey trull

      I totally agree with you.This happens way too often in our schools.This boy was physically assaulted.In any other setting he could have been charged.They gave warnings? Apparently the warnings didn't help because they kept doing it.Schools need to step it up and take much stronger stands against this type of violence.A child shouldn't have to toughen up or have to fight in order to get an education.When our children were younger we had to stop sending them on the bus and drive them.A much older boy was trying to touch her inappropriately,even going so far as trying to pull her pants down.He and his friends thought it was funny.How does a tiny 8 year old toughen up to this? We reported it but nothing was done.We drove them to and from school for the duration.

      February 25, 2013 at 10:37 pm |
  7. Airnoi

    I would have found out who these bullies were and pressed charges. Bullying is one thing, assault is another.

    February 25, 2013 at 7:16 pm |
  8. tammyk tammy

    Just as schools have adopted a zero tolerance for weapons, they need to have zero tolerance for bullying which can also have lethal consequence in terms of suicide and bullied kids resorting to shooting their tormentors. If a school cannot stop the bullies, it needs to expell those students, not expect the bullied child to move to another school. If an adult harassed a co-worker like this and their company took no action, that adult would be able to sue both the harasser and the employer. Parents of bullied kids need to start filing suits against the parents and the schools who sit back and allow this to continue. Bullying has devasting emotional consequences. We need strong laws at the federal and state levels which provide the parents some means of addressing the lack of will to stop bullying. Monetary penalties are sometimes the only way to deter bad behavior. If parents and schools start finding themselves in court, most of the bullying will stop. If it doesn't, the bullies need to be expelled.

    February 25, 2013 at 7:05 pm |
  9. Jennifer Greene

    What I do not understand is why the bus drivers do not report it. I mean, yes, they are driving, and they might not be able to act immediately while the bus is in motion, but they CAN report it, and kids who bully CAN be banned from the buses. It should be as simple as that. You bully someone on a bus, and you get Bus Suspension. PERIOD. Let their parents get them to and from school for a week, and then the rest of the school year if they do it again.

    February 25, 2013 at 7:00 pm |
  10. tiffany b.

    the actions displayed by this family were courageous. my only hope is that although the children no longer attend the schol the parents contine to prsue ustice for the other victims there.

    February 25, 2013 at 6:51 pm |
  11. DamonHill

    "The school also questioned all of Alex’s tormentors and gave them warnings"

    bullying someone = fine and dandy
    making a finger gun = suspension

    something with that line of thinking is terribly wrong

    February 25, 2013 at 6:50 pm |
  12. Eartha Harris

    I will keep your family in my prayers....

    February 25, 2013 at 6:37 pm |
  13. mona19595

    I can't believe there are no comments regarding this article.......do most people turn the other cheek when it comes to bullying or do you STAND UP AND FIGHT FOR YOUR CHILD?

    February 25, 2013 at 6:36 pm |
  14. Dyan S

    You know what I don't understand is the blatant disregard for this child's safety. When you send your child to school it's their responsibility to ensure each and every student is safe and clearly not only were they not doing their job they simply don't care to do it. No parent should have to transfer their child out of a school because of disgusting acts like this. The solution is not to move the child when that child is clearly not the problem and unfortunately another child is probably the victim now. Truly disgusting.

    February 25, 2013 at 6:35 pm |
  15. paulronco

    In extreme cases like this, it's time to teach your kid how to fight. Peaceful noncooperation and passive resistance has its place, but it is never inappropriate to defend yourself from physical attacks.

    February 25, 2013 at 6:34 pm |
  16. Joan

    Forget the school board. Call the police.

    February 25, 2013 at 6:31 pm |
  17. Kevin

    That story has a terrible ending! All they could do was move!?!?! Nobody was willing to cull out the bad kids and put them in a special school just for bad kids? That is what needs to happen!

    February 25, 2013 at 6:28 pm |
  18. Terri

    Wow, they had to move? WTH is wrong with our society that kids who are the brunt of being bullied have to move for things to improve? How many families can afford to do this? If you own a home (ours is paid for) how on Earth do you just pack up and move? Why were schools not involving the parents of the bullies? If they did, why didn't those parents take care of their kids? This is just crazy and ridiculous...it is outrageous.

    February 25, 2013 at 6:26 pm |
  19. Pete

    Wow – just super job, Sioux City. You must be so proud of yourselves. You were the poster children for not doing anything about bullying and you still did zip.

    February 25, 2013 at 6:20 pm |
  20. Bess

    Excuse me, am I missing something here? Weren't these children physically assaulted? Is this not a crime? I only read this blog and don't know the whole story, but where's the juvenile justice system?

    February 25, 2013 at 6:20 pm |
  21. Wendy Jane

    I don't understand; if a coworker hit me I would file charges. If someone assaults your kid, you don't meet them in the principles office – you call the cops and press charges. Wanna stop bullying? Stop pretending like assault between kids is somehow not the same as between adults.

    February 25, 2013 at 6:20 pm |
  22. rosethornne

    Why were the perpetrators of such assault not charged with a crime?
    Verbal teasing is bad enough, but violent touching is over the line and must not be permitted.

    February 25, 2013 at 5:54 pm |
  23. amanda

    when i was a kid i was bullied, my parents couldnt move and to this day i have a scar on my head from staples, a scar on my side from a kid with what i think was a knife, i scar in my cheek from a kid with a sicle swinging it at me, and a scar on my forehead from a fight in 9th grade where i was attacked for trying to defend someone else. it stays with you forever and the physical scars are not the problem. i have 3 children and every day i wonder and i worry, will i get a call today? is my child just having a bad day or is something more going on? it is not something to be dismissed and it is not something children or parents should have to worry about. there are aspects we cannot control, but safety of our children in a classroom full of their peers and teachers who should be stopping it at the start should not be a concern everyday.

    February 25, 2013 at 5:53 pm |
  24. Stephanie

    Why is this not battery? Why not call the police especially if the school officials are not doing anything? Just because they are children does not mean they are not breaking the law! 9-1-1 I like to report a physical assault!

    February 25, 2013 at 5:50 pm |
  25. cynthia

    It's insane that a family has to move to an entirely different state to protect their children from bullies. Schools should have learned by now that this isn't the bullying we experienced 20 or years ago, it has progressed to such intensity that kids are committing suicide or murdering their tormentors and other kids/teachers. I remember bullies who continued to be tormentors their entire lives, many are just bad seeds. They need to have greater consequences, especially if there is no question they did it...like video!?!?!? The bullies go to another school, get kicked off teams, suspended, expelled. sheesh

    February 25, 2013 at 5:48 pm |
  26. garym

    I have seen the movie and i thought the family support sucked, alex really didnt get any support and sense of self worth. the parents seem to blame the boy. the father did nothing to build up his sons confidence there was no show of affection or love. Alex is a brave and wonderful boy, all the best for him.

    February 25, 2013 at 5:40 pm |
  27. Paul Wilson

    There is something very wrong when there is a concerted effort on the part of students to bully another student to the verge of suicide, and (2) the staff is unwilling to do anything effectiive about it.

    Home schooling may be one solution.

    February 25, 2013 at 5:40 pm |
  28. Stewart

    The only ones that should have moved should have been the school staff – out of the school. There should be zero tolerance of tolerance of bullying. period.

    February 25, 2013 at 5:27 pm |
  29. Sam

    These kids need to be removed from school. The actions of these children transcend 'boys being boys' and crosses over into sadism. There is no place for these kids in school or society. The answer is very simple: A warning, a visit from the state to the offender's home(s), followed by expulsion and action against the parents for future transgressions.

    We all want socialization to be part of our child's time at school but education comes first and anyone impairing another child's ability to learn safely and confidently needs to be removed.

    The harsh reality is that everything I learned socially in school is useless as an adult. If you disagree...grow up and start acting like an adult. Lets catch up with the rest of the world and make school about learning and not about being popular.

    February 25, 2013 at 5:21 pm |
  30. paul

    We're suspending 5 years olds for throwing imaginary grenades, pretending their fingers are guns, saying that they're going to shoot bubbles at each other, but kids who are on film physically abusing a classmate are warned? The argument that pretending something is a weapon could lead to real violence is far fetched, these kids are actually perpetrating violence, and nothing is done about it.

    February 25, 2013 at 5:20 pm |
  31. evan

    its a sad truth that bullying happens and it doesnt just go on in high school, it happens in the workplace, at parties, etc... We need to teach our kids to stick up for themselves and maybe even throw a punch everynow and then

    February 25, 2013 at 5:18 pm |
  32. Russell

    Obviously, this family lived within a school system that is not caring nor is it competent on these issues. I imagine those school officials see themselves as professionals, but they are far from it. They should be removed from their jobs. It's very sad that a child has to put up with this while school officials sit on their hands.

    February 25, 2013 at 5:16 pm |
  33. evan

    seriously, i was bullied once when i was in school and i beat the kid up. He never again made fun of me, it boosted my self esteem and no one ever picked on me after that... We need to teach kids to stick up for themselves instead of telling the teachers which will then make the situation worse

    February 25, 2013 at 5:16 pm |
  34. Jesse

    I just dont understand how school officials can let this happen. In our school district we have a policy that if a child is being bullied the bully himself will be moved to another school. I am amazed at how powerless these school officials were...

    February 25, 2013 at 5:03 pm |
  35. Marni

    Did I miss the part where she and the school officials went to the parents of the tormenters and then the police because that is assault.

    February 25, 2013 at 5:01 pm |
  36. j hudson

    I am old man now ,but growing up I was a runt. I am only 5' 6' so that is pretty small man. Odd thing was I was built like a bull dozer. Stocky with plenty of muscel. So Dad made us shorty learn to take up for our selvers. If dad had not done that my life would have been much more hurtful then it was. Problems today not that simple. We was just fighters. These kids now days do not stop at a fight they come back with gun the next day or later. So the invironment is much different today. Much more dangerious. So I would hate to be raiseing a kid today. Do not know what I would tell them about taking up for themselves ? It is for sure a problem. I can imagine how big a problem it is for sexual mis fits. Not saying this out of meaness . Just speaking facts. Those groups have much more per pressure and abuse. Hope in time it will get better for all that are little different in what ever way.

    February 25, 2013 at 4:55 pm |
  37. Edwin

    Why can't they put that superintendent in jail? He is allowing abuse to happen. He throws his hands in the air and says he can't do anything - but there are things that can be done, major changes to how the school system works.

    Warning a bully does little to no good, unless you follow through. If you warn them and they continue, expel them. Call the police if you can. If someone did all that to an adult, that someone would be facing assault charges, possibly jail time. These are kids that are doing the bullying, but if they pose an actual threat to others they need to be dealt with as criminals.

    After you deal firmly and harshly with the worst offenders, you follow through with mandatory educational changes, AND you also follow through with community outreach. Bullies act that way for a reason, and it is imperative that the school acknowledge this and let the community know what is changing and why. The parents of the bullies will not like it, but if enough emphasis is placed on it, the community will more probably support the changes.

    February 25, 2013 at 4:50 pm |
  38. Akim

    Wonder what punishment that bully got, who is being shown in the bus video!!!!

    February 25, 2013 at 4:49 pm |
  39. Dawn Benko

    Amazing. A kid can be suspended solely for drawing a gun or making a gun with his fingers. If he punches and torments another student? Eh! No biggie. Slap on the wrist.

    February 25, 2013 at 4:46 pm |
  40. Rob

    Here's an idea. How about calling the police and having the bullies charged with assault? You have footage as evidence.

    February 25, 2013 at 4:42 pm |
  41. Fernokian

    Now the mom walks the halls vetting new potential schools? She might as well put a shirt on her son that says dont hurt me or I'll tell me mommy and see how that works. Also it just spread to the sister? How does being bullied spread?

    February 25, 2013 at 4:38 pm |
  42. James

    That is not bullying, this is pure violence and assault! It disgusts me that administration does not take a more proactive role in preventing this. This is one reason why we need corporal punishment in our schools again.

    February 25, 2013 at 4:34 pm |
  43. Steve

    As a teacher for 18 years in both public and private schools I say forget the school administration. Call the police, especially if your child has been threatened with or has actually suffered from physical assault

    February 25, 2013 at 4:26 pm |
  44. earlbowden

    And was that original school, principal, superintendent, school board all sued for not accomplishing anything? If not, why not? Have they changed their policies on bullying? How is the new school system the kids were moved to handling bullying?

    February 25, 2013 at 4:26 pm |
  45. David Saroff

    My son is a super smart kid who loves to read. He does not always understand people's social signals. As a result of this, he was heavily bullied in middle school. We documented every incident (date, time, who did it, who witnessed it). After we reached the 5th major incident, we had a discussion with the principal. He was supposed to have done something after the 3rd incident. At first, the principal did not want to do his job. I, then informed him that either he did his job or I would do mine and that was to have a non-verbal "discussion" with the father's of the identified bullies. He did his job, the bullying stopped and two of the bully's families felt the need to move. Problem solved. TCB.

    February 25, 2013 at 4:26 pm |
  46. Jane D.

    That's disgusting. Why weren't the bullies' parents called into the school to watch the video of their little monsters? They should receive a year-long suspension so their parents have to endure the torture of babysitting these vile offspring 24/7, with mandatory therapy and parenting courses during that period.

    February 25, 2013 at 4:22 pm |
  47. Steve

    I had a similar experience in school. Unfortunately I didn't share what I was going through with my parents and the abuse continued until the day I decided to fight back. I vowed that my children would never experience what I did, so I educated them early about bullying and what to look for. When my daughter had an issue with bullies her freshman year we leaped into action and luckily for us, the school had a tough policy on bullying and the problem was quickly solved...(local police were also involved)...never stop fighting back...threaten legal action...threaten to go to the media...speak to other parents, whatever you have to do. When I was in school the staff knew what was going on and turned a blind eye to it...never let them get away with that...these people are truly criminals.

    February 25, 2013 at 4:20 pm |
  48. Johnny

    I was bullied through all my years of school. I wish I had the guts to fight back. I'm teaching my son to fight back, brutally. Bullies don't deserve to die but they do deserve to be crippled.

    February 25, 2013 at 4:13 pm |
  49. ryan_c_f

    Sounds like it was high time for a few administrators to be charged by association for failing to protect the children from violent influences.

    It's a shame but school administrations these days only speak lawyer. Bring a few bullies up on assault charges and bring the district in as co-defendants for doing nothing to punish the students involved and you'll see results.

    February 25, 2013 at 4:11 pm |
  50. RalphS

    This is just awful and feel that this poor kid will choose to take his own life if the situation is not rectified. My opinion is that the only way to stop bullying of this magnitude is for the child to fight back. I realize he is outnumbered but if he can single out one of his tormentors, pound the living crap out of him until he bleeds and cries, the bullying will stop. I am not a violent person by any means, but sometimes a physical response is necessary.

    February 25, 2013 at 4:11 pm |
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