Is a Camera a Kid’s Only Advocate?
Nobody believed Julio Artuz, a 15 year old New Jersey special education student, when he complained of being bullied by his teacher. So he caught the whole thing on tape. In footage captured in secret on his cellphone, Artuz is subjected to curses and berating from a man who’s supposed to be a mentor.Artuz’s teacher says: “I will kick your [expletive] from here to kingdom come until I’m 80 years old.””Don’t threaten me,” responds Artuz.
“What are you going to do? You gonna get a chopper and chop me?” asks his teacher as the rest of the class sits rubbernecking the heated argument.
What Jules did do was show his taped account to his parents and a local advocate of bullied students. After an NBC news affiliate in Philadelphia got hold of the footage (you can watch it here), the school immediately took action, placing the teacher on paid administrative leave pending an investigation.
Read more about students who challenged their schools and won
“The actions depicted on the video do not reflect the mission or culture of our school,” saidGloucester Counter Special Services Superintendent Michael Dicken in a statement. “Our school district takes all bullying, harassment, and intimidation allegations seriously…we do not tolerate it.”
While schools may not tolerate that kind of abuse of power, it takes a lot to make it stop. In a separate incident earlier this week, an Ohio special needs student came forward with an account of long-term bullying from her two teachers. She actually had to attend school wired with a recording device to capture proof of her teachers calling her “dumb”, “lazy” and overweight. Another shocking incident this month involved a high school basketball coach who was captured on cell phone video making deeply offensive, racist remarks about students while in school.
“Statistically about 1 to 2 percent of teachers are actually involved in bullying students,” says Dr. Joel Haber, a clinical psychologist who runs the anti-bullying website RespectU. “There needs to be a clear policy in schools not just for students bullying other students but for teachers as well. Teachers are humans too and this kind of thing does happen, so it needs to be managed early.”
While more schools have introduced anti-bullying codes of conduct for students, teachers aren’t always considered a threat.
It’s a murky issue for many school administrators. Where’s the bullying line when you’re managing an unruly classroom? “Its blurry sure but you know when someone wants to make a kid feel bad, or when they’re abusing their power as an authority figure,” says Dr. Haber. “That’s not the way a role model should be managing a student. ”
A bullying teacher doesn’t just threaten to knock a student’s self-confidence, he can destroy a kid’s confidence in his school. “Teachers are supposed to make students feel safe,” Dr. Haber says. When school becomes a fearful environment because of a teacher, students suddenly think ‘well who can I trust then?'”
In Artuz’ case, his phone was best bet. It’s possible nobody would have listened if they didn’t see it firsthand. “When you watch a video like that live, it really creates a different image than if you were to just hear about,” says Dr. Haber.
It’s a powerful defense, especially for students who don’t feel their complaints would be recognized otherwise. It also sends a message to teachers: watch how you speak to your students, someone might be taping you.