“Stormy Rich, an 18-year-old Florida student, says she was punished after reporting bullying of a special needs student on a school bus, and standing up to those bullies when the school didn’t take action.
Rich, an Umatilla High School student, was riding on a middle school bus because she had earned enough credits to avoid a first-period class, getting to school later by taking the bus for the neighboring middle school, the Daily Commercial reports.
But one girl on the bus — a special needs student — was regularly being picked on by her peers, but couldn’t comprehend what was being done to her.
“Just because she doesn’t understand doesn’t mean that should be happening to her,” Rich told WOFL-TV.
She adds that the peer bullies would tell the girl that she couldn’t sit in certain seats on the bus and would force food in her mouth.
“I actually had to tell her to spit it out because she didn’t understand,” Rich said.
The teen, fed up with their behavior, complained to the bus driver — but nothing changed. She then complained to a high school official, who told her he would contact the middle school, but like before, the bullying continued.
So Rich decided to take the matter into her own hands by telling the bullies to stop aggravating the girl. The harassment stopped for a little while, but then the bullying students began threatening her, despite her regular complaints to school officials.
In response, the district revoked Rich’s bus-riding privileges, saying Rich exhibited bully behavior.
“[The district official] said what I did made me the bully, with me telling the kids that if they didn’t stop, and if the school didn’t do anything, that I would have to handle it,” Rich told the Daily Commercial. “To me, it was just going too far.”
District officials are standing behind its response, telling WOFL-TV that two wrongs don’t make a right. Rich says she’s being punished for adhering to school policy, which calls on students to report any bullying they witness.
Lake County Schools communications officer Christopher Patton told the Daily Commercial that he cannot discuss the bullying complaints or student discipline, adding that this is just “one side of the story. …There are other parents that are involved in this.”
Rich’s story echoes a number of controversial school decisions made with respect to bullying. In March, Georgia student Essance McDougald said she was suspended for not reporting to Lithonia High School officials that she was being bullied.
In January, Jack Persyn — also a Georgia student — was suspended after he self-reported that he had accidentally brought a knife to school. Persyn found the knife in the pocket of his backpack, which had been purchased by his aunt at a yard sale, and neither the student nor his aunt checked the contents of the bag before taking it to school.”