Jamie Rathburn Became a Bully to Fight Bullies
Jamie Rathburn Became a Bully to Fight Bullies
June 14, 2019
Last month, Jamie Rathburn finally had enough. Her son, a third-grader at Greenbrier Elementary School in South Carolina, had been bullied once too often. Pushed to the edge, frustrated by what she saw as a lack of communication from the administration, she entered the school, confronted a group of third-graders and things went downhill from there. To say she went too far in her attempt to protect her son is stating the obvious. She’s already begun facing the consequences of her actions, starting with being arrested. The real question, however, is simple: could the situation have been handled better by all parties involved?
The answer is a resounding “YES!”
Rathburn’s son faced a number of instances of bullying throughout the school year, according to the frustrated mother:
He was told that he was ugly, that he was stupid, nobody cared, and he was called gay, he was cussed out, and when he reported those things, he was told to ignore it.”
She went on to read from a list of alleged incidents she documented.
Hit, kicked, hit with computer, shoved, jerked off slide ladder from behind his neck, kid tried choking him, he had small scratches and red marks on his neck.”
According to school administration, she did report the problem and they did investigate. You can read the administration’s full statement here. This statement illustrates a large part of the problem. Rathburn was told steps had been taken to punish the student or students found to have bullied her son but she wasn’t told what actions, if any, had been taken. The reason? The school was protecting the privacy of the student and his or her family.
With the incidents supposedly continuing, Rathburn’s frustration–and anger–built, as it would for any concerned parent in her situation.
From the reports I’ve seen, Rathburn did what she should have when she became concerned about what was happening. She contacted the teacher and administration. She documented what her son said was happening. According to the administration, “Ms. Rathburn was receiving regular updates from the teacher about her son’s interactions with classmates. The teacher offered suggestions to the parent and kept a close eye on her child and those accused of bullying.”
Sounds good, so far at least.
Except, as noted above, she couldn’t find out what steps had been taken to punish those bullying her son.
That’s when she took matters into her own hands and illegally entered the school, confronting students who allegedly bullied her son and cursing staff members when they tried to get her to leave.
You can read the full statement here. But here are the highlights:
School administrators were made aware of the situation by Rathburn and met with her about the situation.
Wow, let’s worry about making sure another family’s privacy is protected at the expense of keeping the situation festering. That makes about as much sense as the “Zero Tolerance” rule imposed by so many districts that has allowed bullying to run rampant on school campuses.
It is our opinion that the appropriate reaction to unhappiness with a school response is to have a conversation with the adults in charge. In this case, that would be the teacher, the principal and other school administrators, or the district administration, and not a hallway filled with eight and nine year-old children. There is also a formal complaint form that can be filed with the school or the district that would launch a broad scale investigation. Ms. Rathburn never filed the complaint form or contacted anyone at the district level prior to taking illegal action.”
No, she came to those who should have first-hand information about what had been going on, the people she’d entrusted her son’s welfare to during the course of the school day. She trusted them to protect her son.
Does that take the responsibility off of her to have escalated the complaints to the district level? No. But it also doesn’t relieve the school administration from taking steps, up to and including letting admin know what was going on. If for no other reason than from a legal liability standpoint.
According to the district, Rathburn illegally entered the school on the day in question–and admitted doing so.
We should point out that her arrest came after concerned adults watched Ms. Rathburn’s threatening, profanity-laden videos on social media and called law enforcement, not because our employees chose to file charges. She was placed on no trespass with Greenville County Schools after an internal investigation, not because she confronted a school bully, but because of her actions. Ms. Rathburn illegally entered a school (by her own admission), yelled at a group of young students because she didn’t know which boy she was looking for, and cursed a school employee.”
Rathburn said the tipping point for her was when “administrators separated her son from other students for his protection. She said anywhere her son went, his teacher followed him, including lunch and the playground.”
That statement alone, if true, speaks volumes. Either the administration was concerned about the bullying and what might be done next to Rathburn’s son or they thought he might retaliate. If the former, why segregate him instead of the bullies? If the latter, why not talk to his mother about their concerns?
Rathburn admits she cursed at the teacher and the school’s principal. She also, apparently, posted a Facebook video that so concerned parents and others in the community, they contacted police. Four days after the incident occurred, she was arrested on “a charge of nonstudent interfering, disrupting or disturbing schools.”
District communications director Elizabeth Brotherton told CNN via email, “The appropriate reaction to unhappiness with a school response is to have a conversation with the adults in charge.
Funny how Brotherton conveniently omitted that was exactly what Rathburn did. She talked with the boy’s teacher and school administrators. No, she didn’t go to district administrators but she did talk with the “adults” in charge.
An incident on the playground where her son was pulled off of a slide was addressed swiftly by school administrators and the child responsible was disciplined according to our behavior code,” Brotherton told Newsweek. “It was also reported that other students had made faces at him and comments about his haircut. In these cases you could argue that this is typical behavior from 8-year-olds. Is it kind? No. Is it right? No. Is it bullying?
That is in the eye of the beholder. These incidents involved other children in the class, not the child responsible for the playground injury, and did not rise to a level that required school discipline. His mom felt that he was being bullied, but that does not automatically mean that the school was negligent or uncaring in its response to the actions of his classmates.”
Part of me agrees with Brotherton. A lot of the incidents noted by Rathburn are what you expect kids to do to one another–at least if you are letting them be kids. But then there is the underlying question of if there was a pattern of behavior being exhibited by these kids and, if so, was it being adequately addressed by the “adults in charge”?
For too long our schools have taken the stance that students can’t stand up to bullies. They are to report the bullying instead of pushing back. They are to trust the administration to deal with the situation. Yet, as shown by this case, they aren’t told what actions have been put into play. Unless the alleged bully is no longer in class or at the school, they know nothing.
Parents are frustrated because they don’t know what steps have been taken to protect their kids. The concerned parents are told, “if you don’t like it, take it up the chain of command.” Except they still find out little to nothing. District administrations hide behind the privacy excuse. They have to protect the privacy of another family. They have acted according to district policy.
“Trust them,” they say.
Rathburn went too far. She shouldn’t have confronted the students, especially since there is a question of whether the ones she faced off against at the school were involved with the bullying. She shouldn’t have cursed at the teacher and principal and she shouldn’t have taken to Facebook to air her grievances in such a way they raised the concerns of other parents.
In short, she became the bully.
But I can also understand why. As parents, we are supposed to protect our children. The law requires we send them to school. If we can afford it, we send them to private school. If we can afford it and have the ability, we homeschool. But not everyone can do either of the alternatives. Some of us are forced to send our children to public school. It isn’t unreasonable to expect our children to be protected while there.
Yes, Rathburn might have blown some of the so-called bullying incidents out of proportion. But if this was a continuing pattern of behavior by the students, can you blame her?
The sad truth is, there are no winners here and the real loser is Rathburn’s son, especially if CPS winds up getting involved because of what happened.
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