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Caleb Laieski

Escaping School Bullies

October is Bullying Prevention Month. Bullying is one of my passions because this is an issue that is literally life-and-death for some young people. It’s a pervasive problem in our schools and the online community. This past summer I was asked to share my thoughts on a study that found that 17% of middle schoolers experienced bullying. The study’s sentiment seemed to portray the message that bullying “isn’t so bad.” The interviewer changed his tone when I pointed out that the findings suggested that nearly 1 in 5 children were being targeted, possibly tortured.

Self-Portrait #23 by Robby McKee

I believe that stopping bullying requires a multi-faceted approach that involves the school and the parents. The child who is being bullied needs support and the bully needs to be assessed to determine the cause of their behavior as well. Schools and parents also have the responsibility to foster a sense of acceptance in students to decrease the chance that a person or group will be taunted. If the school refuses to do its job and protect these victimized students, then the families needs to turn to higher authorities which may include the school board and/or the police. No child should be afraid to go to school.

Today I began to ponder what a child’s options might be if they can’t stand being in school anymore. I don’t support children dropping out of school in general, but for some, that’s their best chance for being safe. I’m very proud of what Caleb Laieski did a few years ago. He dropped out of school on his 16th birthday, the earliest date he could legally quit school, to escape the bullying he was forced to endure. He has since earned his GED and works in the Phoenix Mayor’s Office. I hope he’s a role model for other similarly situated students.

Caleb was able to withstand the bullying until his 16th birthday, but some students are not so fortunate. What do you tell a 14 year-old who is bullied every day – to hang in there ‘til he turns 16? I don’t think so. That could set the child up to commit suicide before he turns 16. These children have options to escape their tormenters and they should take advantage of them.

  1. Online School: If you’re going to attend an online school, make sure it’s a legitimate school with a demanding curriculum. Apparently there are a lot of scams out there.
  2. Home Schooling: When you opt to be home schooled, make sure you follow all the applicable laws and regulations set by the county. The woman I talked to today at the GED office said you’ll still have to take the GED.
  3. Community College: I called Rio Salado Community College today and they said a 14 year-old could be enrolled with a special admission. You have to take a placement test to make sure that you’re academically ready for college-level work. You will also have to take the GED when you turn 16.

I will vehemently oppose any proposed legislation that would require children to be in school until their 18th birthdays. Until the education system can effectively prevent bullying in schools, children need a way to escape when they are in a worst-case scenario.

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Undeniable Recap of 2011

It’s been quite an eventful busy year. Thank you to all my family and friends who supported me through this year, even during my moments of pure stressed out insanity. Here are my top five events and experiences of 2011.

Photo by AJ Grucky

  1. I Passed The Bar! The process of graduating from law school, studying for, taking, and passing the Arizona Bar Exam and the process of applying and being admitted to the State Bar of Arizona took about 7 months of my year. It was exceptionally stressful – easily the hardest thing I’ve done in my professional life. It was a huge relief when I learned that I passed the Bar and Character and Fitness.
  2. Personal Record at the Half Marathon Injuries prevented me from training the way I would have liked for the 2011 Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in Arizona. Despite being in pain starting at mile 2, I had the same rule for this race as my previous half marathon – no stopping or walking. Around mile 9, I realized that I was close to being on pace for a personal record, so I kicked my speed and finished 3 minutes faster than the previous year.  I was in so much pain by the end of the race, but it was an incredible lesson in determination.
  3. Sponsor A Law Kid I succeeded in getting my blog sponsored for 46 days during the beginning of the year to offset the cost of my last semester of law school. It was a challenge to create quality content every day and to face the backlash from some members of the legal community. I love that I was able to do this. My only regret is not doing it sooner.
  4. I Wish Your Wish One of the most powerful experiences this year was attending Rivane Neuenschwander’s I Wish Your Wish exhibit. It took me down to my core level and connected me with what I want for my life. For over two months, I had a pink ribbon tied around my wrist that said “I Wish To Die With No Regrets.”
  5. Photo by Jamey Peachy

    Big Brain Award Nomination I was shocked and overjoyed when I learned that I was nominated for a New Times Big Brain Award for my work behind the scenes with Improv AZ, the flash mob/prank troupe I co-founded in Phoenix. Ever since I expressed interest in flash mob law, I questioned whether it was a viable area of law. Just being nominated validated my professional aspirations and showed me that there is a need for the work I’m interested in.

 

Celebrity Encounters in 2011:

 

Firsts in 2011:

When Bullied Students Should Turn to the Police

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer.  This blog should not be viewed as legal advice.  It is simply my experiences, opinions, and information I looked up on the internet.

This is the time of year when kids are heading back to school with new clothes and new notebooks. Unfortunately for some kids, they are going back with an all too familiar feeling of dread – the dread that accompanies going to a school where they are victimized on a daily basis with teasing, being hit and pushed, and being humiliated in front of their classmates and teachers.

I had the pleasure of meeting Caleb Laieski last week, the teen who dropped out of school on his 16th birthday because of the bullying he was enduring. He has since earned his GED and is now a lobbyist in Washington D.C. against bullying and discrimination in schools. We agreed that if a student is being physically assaulted in school and the administration is turning a blind eye to their plight, that the student should report it to the police.

(cc) apdk from Flickr

When I think of bullying in schools, I think about kids being shoved into lockers, being tripped in the hallway, and getting swirlies in the bathroom. In high school, these bullies face detention if they’re caught; but in the real world we call this “assault.” In the real world, people go to jail for this.

We want schools to be safe and we entrust teachers and administrators with protecting students.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen.  Sometimes they make excuses for problem students.  Sometimes they ignore the problem, despite receiving reports of bullying and pleas from victimized students and their families. At that point, students can’t rely on the schools for protection, and they should report all incidents involving physical violence to the police.

Why should students go to the police instead of suing the school for not fulfilling their obligation to protect its students? The obvious reason is that it won’t stop the bully in his/her tracks; being arrested will. Suing the school takes a lot of time, energy, and money.  Additionally, the victims of bullying that I’ve met weren’t interested in making money; they just wanted the harassment to stop.  Reporting the violence to police is a faster, more efficient solution.

I recently spoke with a parent who reported a bully to the police. Multiple families had complained about the bully, and the school always made excuses for him. One parent decided that he’d had enough and reported the bully to the police when his child was physically assaulted after sticking up for another student who was being victimized. The benefit to the bully, besides getting a clear message that his behavior was unacceptable, was that he was required to attend the counseling and anger management classes that he needed.

When I was in high school, it seemed like students’ options for recourse ended at the principal’s office.  It makes me wonder if today’s victimized students know that they have options besides dropping out if their school won’t protect them.  The school won’t tell them – a school that won’t protect its students probably doesn’t want them to seek outside help either.  It’s up to the advocates to provide the necessary information and support to these students.

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