Cruelty on a school bus

After watching this video, I am stunned by the unrelenting, ongoing, almost casual cruelty it depicts. A group of junior high school students from Greece School District in Rochester, NY, subject bus monitor Karen Klein to a profanity-laced stream of humiliating insults and threats. Suzan Clarke for ABC News reports (link here):

Klein, a 68-year-old mother of four and grandmother of eight, was riding on a school bus with several students from the district’s Athena Middle School in Rochester on Monday when she was subjected to mean and cruel mockery by several students.

In a 10-minute video that was uploaded to YouTube  on Tuesday by one of the students on the bus, several students can be heard taunting Klein, telling her she was a “fat ass,” “old ass,” dumb, poor and sweaty.  Most of the voices appear to be male, and their comments toward Klein are riddled with profanity.

The video is about 10 minutes long, but it feels like it goes on forever — or at least that’s how it must’ve felt to Karen Klein. One radio station blog reported that some of the kids involved posted it to their Facebook pages.

The video has gone viral, the news media have discovered it, and there’s even a fund created to support Karen Klein. (Google “school bus monitor video” and you’ll get dozens of news articles and blog commentaries.) At least there’s a public outcry about what occurred.

Okay, so lots of junior high kids can do and say mean things, and that doesn’t mean they inevitably will grow up to be horrible adults. But at a very young age, the kids in this video demonstrate the easy capacity for extreme, ongoing verbal abuse. There is no indication that they’re acting out of anger toward something that happened. They display not one ounce of conscience or understanding about what they’re doing to another human being. Apparently it doesn’t matter at all to them that she’s an older adult who obviously is becoming upset.

Let’s hope that Karen Klein is able to find a silver lining in the outpouring of public support she is receiving. And let’s hope these kids don’t grow up to become the adult versions of what they depicted in the video.

***

June 22, 2012 addendum — Jason Sickles reports for Yahoo! News (link here) that the fund for Karen Klein, originally intended to raise $5,000, has surpassed $500,000. Two of the boys involved in the verbal abuse have issued apologies. Unfortunately, but perhaps not surprisingly, both the school district and the children who participated in the incident have been subjected to harassment and threats.

July 2, 2012 addendum — News outlets (e.g., Christian Science Monitor story here) have reported that the boys who harassed Karen Klein have been suspended from school for a year, and instead will be attending an alternative school during that time.  Klein is quoted as saying that she is “fine” with the penalty.

When I first heard that a suspension was in the offing, I was troubled by the possibility. These kids need more structure and discipline in their lives, not less. But the provision of alternative school arrangements makes this disposition an acceptable one.

The impromptu online fund started to give Klein a “vacation” has now reached well over $600,000, which means she’ll likely have the option of returning to work or retiring. It is the “feel good” aspect of this story, one in which people continued to give (and give) even though they were well aware that the original fundraising goal was a modest $5,000.

It also gave rise to greater public awareness of bullying behaviors and their impact on targeted individuals. The case of Karen Klein is a hybrid of sorts: We tend to separate school bullying from workplace bullying, but this event blended the two, with an adult employee being severely bullied by a group of school kids.

Readers left very insightful comments to this post, and I’d suggest reading through them for their collective wisdom.

***

Here’s an update that reports on the remarkable success of the fundraising campaign to help Karen Klein and what she plans to do with the money now that she has some freedom to decide her future.

40 responses

  1. Just this AM I noticed that this was one of the lead stories on the MSNBC webpage. Just reading your account I have a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes…. I can’t bear to watch it right now. I can’t wait to hear if any of these children (or their parents) respond. It seems like such a fine example of mobbing (the very overt kind). Where was the bus driver in this? I’m so sorry for Ms. Klein that not one person stepped up to at least try to stop the verbal violence.

  2. Ugh – reminds me of school bus trips from my childhood. It was heart-wrenching to watch this video, but I gutted it out because I was hoping that the bus driver would intervene. Didn’t see that happen, so it makes me wonder about that person. Bystander effect? Probably. Anyway – I can totally empathize with Ms. Klein. She is in my thoughts and I hope to God that the kids who did this to her are held accountable in some way.

  3. This is so sad, my heart goes out to Ms. Klein. The students clearly show exactly what they are, Bullies. If they will mob an adult in this manner, how far will they go with someone in their same age group. Recalling my school rules, profanity was never allowed. Punishment for cursing and creating a hostile, intimidating environment should be grounds for the school to suspend the students and implement punishment. Showing their true colors, and how “Proud they were of the Attack”, they then chose to post the video on youtube. The students need to be held accountable for their vicious, low class, pack-of-dogs attack.

  4. I watched this again. For the 10 solid minutes the camera is running, these kids won’t let up, mostly repeating the same foul, mean things over and again. Even as it’s clear that this poor woman is upset, they continue, relentlessly. It’s a remarkably sad example, in the unremarkable context of a school bus ride, of how words alone can completely dehumanize someone.

    Some of the young people are on camera. Will their parents do anything, say anything, or apologize publicly for their kids’ behavior?

    • Wouldn’t it be lovely if the parents volunteered to monitor the bus as their work schedules permitted? Perhaps their employers would allow them to work compressed work weeks occasionally for such a worthy cause!

      …and perhaps the boys could be assigned an extra-curricular video project of making an anti-bullying video to post on you tube as a companion piece to the one that sparked so much outrage. I see a real opportunity for redemption there.

  5. I hope Mrs. Klein has the resources to be able to walk away from this job. And that future applicants in the division will be shown this video so that they will have a realistic understanding of the working conditions before accepting jobs.

    Parents too should be required to watch this in order to understand what their children are witnessing or participating in as they get “educated”. How do we expect kids to cope or intervene?

    This is the real world folks, and it ain’t pretty. There are no quick fixes and we can only hope that the disgust and outrage this example triggers can be channelled into meaningful and sustained change. This is not the world I want our children to grow up in. And no public apology will ever adequately address the issues.

    • The public support for her has been significant. The fund started on her behalf, meant to raise $5,000 to treat her to a vacation, has raised around $200,000.

      As hideous as it was that some kid decided that this would be worth filming to share with others, the YouTube posting is a painfully effective teaching tool. I’m sure there are parents who are shocked that kids could act this way — and it’s good to shake them out of their complacency.

  6. I always have trouble with bullying stories, but this one hurt more than usual. That woman reminds me of my mother and it absolutely heartbreaking how she was treated. The taunting of her son’s suicide was beyond cruel, and it’s what gets to me the most of all.

    American society is facing a moral crisis. Somehow, bad adults and bad kids are getting away with acts of pure sadism – on a regular basis. This paradigm must change in our lifetime or I think the country is doomed to fail in more ways than just our morals.

  7. This is a disgrace. How can our society fall so low that this is considered “entertainment” by those filming it? How can middle school children think this is acceptable behavior? It is no wonder that bullying goes on in our society if this kind of thing is OK in the school system. I wonder if the trend towards “reality” shows encourage this kind of behavior? Whatever prompted it; it needs to stop.

  8. Can’t breathe. SO angry. Every one of those kids should be held back a year. Justification? They don’t have the social skills to advance to the next grade.

  9. Good news! So many people have been touched by this situation that the fund started to provide a vacation for the target will likely allow her to retire in dignity! May her miserable experience glow as a beacon of hope, shining light on the dark side of human behaviour and convincing more and more unbelievers of the realities we are so reluctant to recognize and address. There is evidence that once convinced of the reality, people are moved to act!

    http://www.indiegogo.com/loveforkarenhklein

    • Kachina, you are right. There are positives to this.

      The school, the parents, and the bullies are all being scrutinized. I don’t think the school will be lax about bullying now and I’ll bet there are a lot of parents talking to their kids… “if you EVER do anything like that…”

      This proves that bullying is not just about wimpy kids who can’t deal with life. People are incensed about bullying behavior and the meanness in our society. Yes, I think this will lead to action.

      • The numbers in this story are encouraging. One target. Four perpetrators. Thousands of outraged people who took action to restore the target. The downside is the thousands of people who have threatened the youth in retaliation…much as I despise their actions, I cannot give up hope for those boys. Perhaps their parents will involve them in activities that promote respect and meaningful, supportive interactions. They are evidently capable of better behaviour under different circumstances.

  10. Why do kids today get away with this? When I was a kid there would have been other kids telling them to stop and respect for the lady.They would have been banned from the bus and would be spending a couple weeks in detention after school.

  11. Absolutely awful behavior. Mob bullying in the most cowardly way. But as usual, dumb kids provided evidence of their own misdemeanors, and surely the legal system can utilise this to ensure justice. Seeing as the kids are apparently so disgusted with the ladies ‘sweating’, I would personally like to see them get a big sweaty bear hug! That should wipe the smiles off their faces.

  12. Less than a week since this incident occurred, and almost 30,000 people from around the world have recognized that a few weeks of R and R is not an adequate response to the abuse Karen Klein endured. Those eyes are on the situation, and I hope New York law makers are acutely aware of the public response as the Health Workplace Bill moves forward. In small increments, averaging less than $22, tens of thousands of people have voted with their pocketbooks to ensure that this woman never has to endure such assaults on her dignity in the course of earning a wage again.

    Every donor since the initial goal of $5,000 was reached has been aware of the cumulative total. And they’re still not convinced that another small gesture is in vain. Our justice system is put to shame by the voluntary efforts of empathetic individuals whose ideas and ideals demand more.

    The people are speaking, and I like what these ones are saying!

  13. I just watched the video again…to try to pick out the words on the purse the bus monitor carried. She says, “I try to live by some of these words. I try…it’s very hard.”

    The purse with the words she bought at Wegmans and carried that day read:

    Expect Miracles
    Live with Integrity
    Dream
    Dare to Laugh
    Be Remarkable

    I want to carry those words too.

    • Kachina, thank you for finding the positive meaning in this story.

      While the incident itself remains profoundly disturbing, it has struck a chord with people, and we’re seeing an outpouring of understanding and decency and support.

      It inures to the benefit of anti-bullying movements at all levels. Maybe, just maybe, a sign that lots of people are starting to get it.

    • I haven’t read about any response either. I did see a brief interview snippet where one of the fathers was complaining about the harassing phone calls they’d received. I don’t blame him for being concerned, though something about his affect and attitude made it unsurprising that his son behaved the way he did.

      The parents could’ve defused a lot of the anger by apologizing on behalf of their kids. Too late now, I’d say.

  14. There are reports of written apologies from two of the boys, and parents of at least three of them. Here is a link to an in person apology one father made:

    I have read hundreds of vitriolic attacks against the boys and their families, who are being monitored by police for their protection. I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume that four families are in crisis right now- and there is no family that is prepared for the onslaught of public outrage this incident has triggered. I was a leader of a youth group for a number of years…and not once did I encounter a young man who could not be motivated to improve his behaviour. And not a single family who was not impressed and proud when presented with evidence of their son’s achievement.

    • Hopefully the mob-like response directed at the kids and their families is subsiding.

      More important than an apology, perhaps, is getting to the core of how these kids could be so casually cruel, and what does it mean for their long-term development as members of society. I understand youthful anger, I understand youthful acting out. But this seemed waaay different, a warning sign that these kids are becoming scary and dangerous.

      • I may have a bit of a warped perspective.I was working with kids whose parents had involved them in a group program (cost was not a factor as we had subsidies available) and they actually showed up. I did see some casual cruelty akin to that displayed in the video though…much more than I had ever been exposed to in my own upbringing. For some kids the concept of personal dignity and self-respect were new ones.

        The school has programs in place. “The Greece Central School District has a strong bullying prevention model that includes a district response team, training programs for staff and students including the Olweus Bullying Program, Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports and a Bullying Reporting Process. In March, we also hired a special counselor to train all staff in bullying prevention models”. Evidently whatever preventative measures have been employed with these boys has not been effective- here’s hoping the response/intervention measures produce a better result.

      • That the kids are 7th graders and that they knew this was being taped did a number on me. There’s no fear or shame over the fact that this is being recorded!

        No, I don’t think we can blame this on the failure of an anti-bullying program, certainly not primarily. Something about the peer group influence (fueling mobbing instincts) and/or parental influence is at the core here.

        Plus, is there a backstory with these boys and Karen Klein? Did something trigger these behaviors? What’s the context of all this? We know that workplace bullying/mobbing rarely occurs in isolation. Similarly, there should be more to this.

  15. The publicity would be terrible for ant parent, granted, but I agree that heartfelt apologies always go a long way toward diffusing wrath.

    This looks to me like one of the new things kids have now of filming themselves doing whatever for the express purpose of acquiring their 15 minutes of fame via Utube and this seems to have backfired on them.

    I also am concerned about the further development into good citizens of these kids, and maybe even their parents. Hopefully the public outcry will deter others from committing similar crimes against humanity.

  16. I just listened again..this time for the content (beyond the gratuitous profanity, sexual references, and excrement-related content). The criticisms include references to weight, diet, jewelry, fingernails, age, neighbourhood she lives in and rent she pays, health status, bra size, shopping habits, and the quality of her purse. These are not typical adolescent boy concerns…reflexes and hearing aids maybe. But much of it was likely picked up from witnessing females devaluing other females.

  17. It is true that women devalue women, but so do random TV shows, movies, fathers, brothers, friends, etc.

    I believe that we are living in a time that devalues human life in general. In our culture one has to be intentionally taught. Allowing kids to learn by observing things and people around them just doesn’t cut it.

    We are dealing with many adults who are not recipients of this intentional teaching of the basics such as how to treat people with respect. And that’s just the beginning.

  18. There is probably time for these boys to reach age appropriate levels of moral development. I would have less optimism about the adults in their lives, who are teaching them about culturally appropriate behaviour by modelling it. Actions speak louder than words…and adolescents get that. Most of us learn better by following a behavioural example than by having a set of instructions provided that may or may not relate to the current environment.

    I wonder too whether the boys felt they had a “free pass” given that this incident occurred on the way home from the last day of school, and they did not anticipate any negative consequences from those in authority of the school environment they were leaving. The bus monitor did indicate in an interview that the behaviour that day was the worst she had seen from them.

    I don’t want to be an apologist for bullying behaviour. I just can’t support demonizing children on the basis of what is likely the most poorly considered 10 minutes of their lives. We should all be so lucky as to have “instant karma” occur when we go wrong! And fortunately, this is an instance of individuals who have not learned (or at least didn’t demonstrate) the social intelligence to “hide” their misdeeds by subverting it to covert actions as morally underdeveloped adults do (except the not-so-smart ones who generally end up in the criminal justice system). A very teachable moment provided that consequences are timely.

    The kid who videotaped and posted the whole thing might inadvertently have done the most positive thing possible under the circumstances.

    • I agree that it’s not about publicly demonizing a bunch of out of control 7th graders. Rather, it’s about setting them straight, in no uncertain terms, about the hurtfulness of their actions, so long as the responses are not abusive.

      But let’s also keep in mind that the cruelty itself was compounded by a decision to post the video to their social network pages, which opened the door to this going viral. So, it was more than just 10 minutes of behavior that went haywire in a terrible way. Even with a moment to reflect, they got a kick out of what they had done. Perhaps that’s more alarming than the behavior itself in terms of shedding light on their psychological makeup at this point in their lives.

      • I don’t believe that those boys were out of control. They were in control, and abusing that position. Misguided youth who need to have control imposed (and gradually released as they demonstrate ability to manage it appropriately) by respectful adults responsible for their education and upbringing. I hope we don’t let them down.

  19. Waaay back in the early 80s, I was taking an English class. The grad student who taught the class made an interesting observation. I remember her commenting about how mean our society was becoming. She specifically mentioned the meanness on MTV as an example. Remember MTV? Music videos on TV (Madonna, big hair, shoulder pads, rockers mugging the camera, etc.).

    Fast-forward to 2012. Kids have been raised on a diet of snarky comedies, violent games, and crass reality TV. I know that’s an overgeneralization, but I think our culture has been losing respect for humanity for quite a while.

    • I agree with Been There. I also believe that appropriate instruction has to be used in tandem with appropriate behavioral modeling.

  20. I just received a very prompt and courteous reply from Wegmans to my inquiry about purchasing a purse like Karen Klein’s. While they are unable to meet my request, this number 4 of the Fortune 100 “Best Places to Work For 2012” did indicate that “We did make a donation in her honor to the Northwest YMCA in Greece for their summer day camp that serves K – 10 as there is an anti bullying component to the summer camp experience.”

    Wow.

  21. Kachina, I used to live in the state of NY. I no longer do and one of the things I miss most is Wegmans! They are truly a great company.

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