April 15th, 2010
05:18 PM ET

Head of school district hit by bullying suicide to step down

The chairman of the school district where a bullied student committed suicide told an agitated crowd Wednesday night that he would be stepping down from his position.

South Hadley School Committee Chairman Edward J. Boiselle made the announcement in the same library where prosecutors say 15-year-old freshmen Phoebe Prince was tormented by bullies hours before she took her life.

Prince hanged herself in the stairwell of her family's apartment in South Hadley, Massachusetts, on January 14, following weeks of taunting by classmates, authorities say. The day before she died, she told a friend: "School has been close to intolerable lately," a court document shows.

The audience at the meeting was larger than usual and divided in its support for the administration. Some angrily called for resignations and others clapped as a disruptive audience member were removed by police.

South Hadley Superintendent Gus Sayer told CNN that administrators requested police presence at the meeting after a local radio station called for critics of the committee to attend.

Boiselle said he would have stepped down regardless of the controversy surrounding Prince's death.

"I've always felt that the chairmanship should rotate every year," he said. Committee member JoAnn Jordan was elected to the chairmanship after Boiselle stepped down. He will remain a member of the committee.

Boiselle also expressed support for Sayer and said that he saw no factual evidence at this point that would warrant the removal of any teachers or administrators from South Hadley High School.

Investigators from the Northwestern Massachusetts District Attorney's Office found nothing criminal in the actions of adults at the school but did remark that some actions, or inactions, were troublesome.

Sayer told CNN that the committee had yet to meet with investigators but hoped to do so as soon as possible.

"If we learn from here that things should have been done differently," Sayer said, "We will hold staff members accountable."

The state has charged four teenage girls from Prince's school with civil rights violations resulting in bodily injury, criminal harassment and disturbing a school assembly. Two are also charged with stalking, and one other is charged with assault with a dangerous weapon.

Two boys, also teenagers, have been charged with statutory rape, violation of civil rights with resulting bodily injury, criminal harassment and disturbance of a school assembly.

- By CNN's Cassie Spodak

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Filed under: Education • Justice • U.S.
soundoff (102 Responses)
  1. VK

    I am from one of the Southeast asia school and one would be right to say cane was used for slashing. Though i would not advocate it, the law here is too lenient in favour of the child. In that, it doesnt allow the well wisher, in this case, both the parent and the teacher in particular to even say anything harsh to the kid. But again...Who decides how hard a teacher can hit a child? So...all the responsibility falls back on the parent. Parents must and should be held responsible. Ofcourse the principla failed to do what he was supposed to do resulting in the death of a child. He must have been sleeping.

    April 15, 2010 at 8:00 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Mike

    It all goes back to the PARENTS and PARENTING. The schools are NOT parents. The schools are NOT babysitters. The schools are NOT instructors of life's lessons. Just academic material to become tools for success in the adult world. They can only do so much in supervising children. It all falls back on PARENTING. "But it's so hard to raise children...I have to work two jots, etc." Then don't have children! Children are a BIG responsibility. More than people are willing to acknowledge.

    April 15, 2010 at 8:00 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Julie

    My daughter "bullied" a child when they were both around 5. I don't know if she knew what she was talking about, but we sat down together and then with the other child and her mother and talked about it. From that day forth, my daughter knew it was not right to "bully" or name call, and thereafter always made sure the newcomer, or bullied person was made to feel okay. She was a leader in high school. This is what parents need to do – not just say kids will be kids or what ever.

    April 15, 2010 at 8:00 pm | Report abuse |
  4. kathy

    Its about time – but this is only the top of the iceberg. What about all of the others – teachers, students, all school officials – who KNEW of the terrible this poor girl was going through?? Everyone involved in this should be removed immidiatey.

    Heavens – the victim's own parents went to the school to complain and they did nothing – get rid of all of them! As for those notorious bullies – mean, callous, despicable pieces if trash- all of them. I always knew teenagers (girls and boys) could be so mean, but this is despicable. And you know, even before this I've always thought teenage girls are merciless against those they are bullying.

    April 15, 2010 at 8:00 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Ryan

    I agree with a lot of the comments here. Is removing an administrator the answer to this society problem? In my opinion I don't think that will help. Are the teachers at fault? I don't think that either. I think society as a whole silently condones bullying, but publicly accepts it as normal behavior. What needs to happen is stricter laws be enacted for offenders. I like the idea of a suspension for the first offense. For subsequent offenses, why not suspend for a whole quarter and send the child to a work camp where they will be forced to work, much like a chain-gang, improving the community during school days for the whole quarter. Then one day a week make them attend classes to teach them the consequences of their actions. If they miss days or skip, another quarter of work camp will get added. There has to be tough consequences to correct this behavior. Right now in my son's HS, a punishment for fighting is to send the kids to a secondary school, in my opinion that is not tough enough. Get tougher, enact tougher penalties, get better results.

    April 15, 2010 at 8:01 pm | Report abuse |
  6. kellygrrrl

    I would love to see all American school districts study closely Finland's Kiva program of anti-bullying.

    it is a fabulous and effective program which won 1st prize for crime prevention programs in Europe last year.

    April 15, 2010 at 8:01 pm | Report abuse |
  7. beenthere

    To pen2life – honest and hardworking is a base line – not a life's goal. The teachers and administrators had the ability to stop the bullying and make the educational institution they worked for a safe place for ALL kids. They chose to ignore that responsibility which makes them culpable.

    April 15, 2010 at 8:04 pm | Report abuse |
  8. James

    As much as the school administrators are to blame for not keeping the environment safe for this girl to get an education, the parents of the bullies should be held legally responsible as well for teaching their children that abusing others is acceptable. There is a song in the musical South Pacific that says, "You have to be carefully taught". The parents of these bullies/animals were taught by them to be the way they are. They should be held responsible as well for their "creations".

    April 15, 2010 at 8:25 pm | Report abuse |
  9. enforcerofsunshine

    Although Columbine was a horrible tragedy, so too is the story of this girl taking her own life. My son is currently dealing with some bullying in his school and does his best to ignore it. My solution was to contact the parents and let them know what their little snowflakes have been doing. He said he can handle it himself and I told him to keep me updated on what's going on and how he feels. I let him know that if at any point he feels like hurting himself because of it, to turn that agression around on the people bullying him. It may not be PC, but I am not going to lose my child because other people can't/don't/won't control theirs.

    April 15, 2010 at 8:28 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Paul W

    I hope the town folks raise hell...night and day. I hope they shut down the schools, fire the principal and throw the bullying kids in jail. That poor child was murdered and this needs to be a big, big deal.

    Those police who removed the "disruptive" person shoould be ashamed of themselves. They should have arrested Boiselle instead.

    April 15, 2010 at 8:35 pm | Report abuse |
  11. nb1990

    i think the school should be put to blame just as much as those jealous teenagers. why didnt the girl get couseling

    April 15, 2010 at 8:35 pm | Report abuse |
  12. coastaldave

    My son was bullied in high school his freshman year because he happened to be in a special ed. class. He wasn't 'slow' nor did he have a learning impairment other than he was trying to get through a mental period of adjustment caused by a divorce of his mother and father....(me). I had no idea this was happening until later after he'd graduated and told me about it. Seems the football team's wonderful quarterback decided to begin bullying him because of his special ed. class. My son soon tired of the treatment and kicked his ass. End of Story.

    April 15, 2010 at 8:50 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Olivia

    One important elements not taught in schools is emotional inteligence. Kids need a three side approach to grow and mature into decent persons: physically, mentally and emotionally. Schools emphasize only the metal (academics) and physical (sports) but make a lousy job on the emotional component(social attitudes and character). So no question we see kids with mental and/or physical abiliteis but completly immature to deal with their emotions and adversity. We have emotioanlly underdeveloped kids graduating from HS. Emotional underdevelopment is the fault not only of our school system but mainly of parents. Alike shcools most parents focus on academics and sports but do very little for the emotional progress of thier kids. In fact, they think that shcools are like a "dry cleaning" where one leaves dirty and wrinckled laundry(kids) in the morning and expects to pick them (their kids) up crispy clean and ironed in the afternoon. So kids' emotional inteligence is seldom instructed, kids rarely learn thier social treats and constraints by themselves and one day these emotionally illiterate kids become morally deprived un-empathetic teenagers, the raw material bullies or chronic victims of bullies are made of.

    Two important components of the emotianal inteligence are the sense of empathy (walk on someone's else shoes) and self-confidence (love yourself). Kids without empathy usually become chronic bullies. Kids who are too unsecure and with emotionally -distant parents tend to be victims of peer presure and/or chronic victims of bullies. Some of these kids who are also vicitms become selective bullies (in some environments they are victims y others they tend to be bullies). In the end, bullies are mean persons and deep inside all bullies are sad people.

    April 15, 2010 at 9:13 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Phoenix3

    Bullying has been around forever and it's time that we put it on the hotseat. Far too long teachers and the parents of the children that are bullying others either ignore it and shrug it off as kids just be kids, turn a blind eye or even encourage it. Children need to be taught to accept their peers for who they are and not judge others for being different, geeks, or loners. But we live in a society where clicks are accepted as being a normal part of school life from grade school on and there are always the kids everyone makes fun of and picks on, usually by groups of students. It always seems to be slightly less intensive when it's just one on one, it's so much easier to gang up on the weaker kids. Schools need to have a no bullying policy and enforce it, not just shrug off the bad behavoir. Teachers also need to work with the students that are being bullyed, if they can't come to a teacher and ask for help and get it, they will continue to be picked on. Parents need to step up and when they are told their child is either bullying or being bullied they need to get involved. Work with the schools and your children to insure that the bad behavior stops and is not condoned. If a child continues to be a bully they it's time they are expelled from school, put in detention or even sent to juve if necessary. We see more and more news reports of young people taking their lives or like Columbine and other schools that have ahd shooting incidents, killing their tormentors. If someone had picked up on the behavioral issues displayed by the two young men at Columbine, could the whole situation have been avoided? If someone at the school had tried to help Phoebe and dealt with the bullies, would she still be alive?

    April 15, 2010 at 9:14 pm | Report abuse |
  15. BarbaraSamburu

    The school has these children in their care for probably more than six hours a day. A parent does not see how children interact at the breakfast table, or at the dinner table. Their view of children differs from that of a school teacher, ergo, teachers had more responsibility. Children are in your care. You mold these people.

    April 15, 2010 at 9:15 pm | Report abuse |
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