Just hours before South Hadley, MA high school student Phoebe Smith committed suicide due to bullying, she was the victim of a a vicious verbal barrage at the school library that included derogatory comments and slurs in front of many witnesses. This situation was documented and put before a court by the Northwestern District Attorney in April.
However, within the 53 pages of emails released to the Boston Herald as a result of a Freedom of Information request, are sad tales of a school district overwhelmed and not knowing what to do.
Why didn’t a school staff member do anything about the bullying in the library? One released email reports:
“While the staff member was in the library proper, the staff member did not observe the bullying,” high school principal Dan Smith wrote on March 31 in response to an inquiry from an Irish reporter. “There is a very big difference between those points.”
In the same e-mail, Smith wrote, “our library is quite large, including a full computer lab, book stacks, another small computer lab, etc.”
The emails also show that Smith was not sure how to respond to subsequent events. For example, Smith appears to encourage two teachers seeking his advice to ignore reporters’ interview requests, the Herald reports. “When they call my house I do not answer or call them back. I view it as an invasion of my privacy. They can’t assume guilt by no response. Your choice, however,” Smith writes April 2.
He also disclosed:
“The DA has evidence that two teachers knew of what was happening and didn’t respond,” Smith also writes March 30 in response to an e-mail from a 39-year-old man who said he was bullied as a child. The line was redacted by school officials but is still legible, the Herald reports.
In full disclosure of my commercial interest, as a response to the Smith bullying incident, my employer, InBoxer, released a new product feature designed to detect reports of bullying within email messages and released a white paper on bullying in school email.