Written by: Jeremy Baumhower
Sometimes people get sick, sometimes it becomes contagious, sometimes people have no idea that they are sick and contagious; what I saw this morning in a jam-packed conference room at the Anthony Wayne School District Center, was a school system that was in complete denial, almost defiant that it was or could possibly be… ill.
The 100-plus people in attendance which filled every seat, lined the back and sides walls and hallway leading inside, were all there to support Tim and Marla Halko as they addressed the “bullying” of their daughter 10 year-old Kaylee, to the Anthony Wayne School Board during it’s monthly meeting. As TV cameras rolled tape, reporters took notes, speaker after speaker from the community asked numerous questions about the bullying of Kaylee Halko and specifically the actions of the school district following the incident. Citing State and Federal laws; Superintendent Dr. Jim Fritz said he “could not go into specifics” of this case or any other specific case. Dr. Fritz addressed a list of programs that the AWS District has installed to prevent bullying and the checks-and-balances to help bring it to the right people’s attention. Dr. Fritz often reminded the people in attendance that “there was two-sides to every story”, but couldn’t elaborate on the other side.
A lot of words were said by Dr. Fritz, but not the right ones.
During this hour-long public meeting, there were two words that were notably absent from the mouths of Dr. Fritz or any other member of the AWS Board. Two words that should have been said first and repeated throughout. Two words that those with hearts say first.
Two words that nearly every other person when learning of this story has uttered to the parents of Kaylee Halko… “I’m sorry.”
Apologizing is not always an admission of guilt, but a recognition that someone else is having a hard time. They are words we use when we try to make things right, that can sometimes even be out of our control. They are a way we as human beings express sympathy, empathy and compassion towards others. “I’m sorry this bad thing has happened to you”. “I’m sorry you felt no other choice but to move away”. “I’m sorry we couldn’t do more to help your family”. “I’m sorry”.
Instead of hearing those words, I listened with complete disbelief at ones spoken by AWS Board member Doug Zimmerman, “ I think the Principal did a remarkable job handling the situation…. We have seen everything, all the evidence.. I can honestly say that I sleep comfortably at night with what happened here.”
There was a collective THUMP that followed those words, as every jaw in the room fell onto the floor. It made Marla Halko instantly turn away in disgust and tell me “I can not even look at that man anymore.”
I couldn’t take my eyes off of him.
This was the very moment when I saw the sickness in the room.
It was very apparent as to why there are countless stories of bullying happening here in the Anthony Wayne Schools; why MTV can do an entire special on the topic, why a child may take their own life and why a child who suffers from Progeria could be bullied and would have to move away going into their fifth grade year… the district, it’s school board and it’s Superintendent are not well.
AWS is a culture with accepted bullying and an ineffective system to mandate, discipline and control.
I am saddened that not one member of the AWS board expressed any empathy to the stories being shared or to those with the courage enough to share them. I understand it was a tough room, but soft words may have softened it.
There was no compassion from those who are responsible for teaching our children the very concept.
The time for a change in AWS is not tomorrow nor next year, but now. The exact moment a needed change was confirmed when AWS Board Member Doug Zimmerman finished speaking; his resignation should come first and not be the last.
If a girl with progeria being bullied in the district he is elected to help govern, doesn’t cause him any loss of sleep, then what does?
To Marla and Tim Halko: I’m sorry.
“Any society, any nation, is judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members – the last, the least, the littlest.” ~Cardinal Roger Mahony