Bullying-no joking matter

Editor's note: This is part 1 of a three-part series about bullying in Vermont schools. It is written by Catherine M. Oliverio, a teacher at Poultney High School.

Recently Vermont resident John Halligan visited Poultney High School to meet parents and community members to discuss the tragic story of his son, Ryan Patrick, a 13-year-old who committed suicide. Halligan's son felt he couldn't cope with bullying, which began in elementary school, and escalated into another forum through online access as cyber bullying.

Halligan began the meeting with a video introducing his son.

"Ryan was born in 1989 a week before Christmas, one of our best gifts," said Halligan. "By the age of two, Ryan could not speak so we applied for early education to help with his speech language delay and physical therapy to help with his fine motor issues."

At the time of his son's death, Halligan worked for IBM, in Vermont.

"Ryan transitioned well (when we moved to Vermont from New York); he loved sports. He was no longer considered a special education student (SPED) by fourth grade, which thrilled us. We were grateful and relieved," he said.

Halligan shared the horror that engulfed Ryan. The clear message that bullying is not a joking matter seemed to impact the entire audience at Poultney High School.

Parents, teachers and administrators must realize the seriousness of bullying. Halligan said, "There's a fine line with teasing and kidding. When done with permission, that's okay, but otherwise ends up in a situation causing others pain."

Bullies come in all ages, genders, shapes, and sizes.

One moment a bully appears to be sweet and innocent, and without warning, he or she turns on classmates or even fellow workers. Bullies can be so-called friends, family members, and bosses. Although bullying usually starts in elementary school, it may continue well into adulthood.

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