- The Washington Times - Monday, May 7, 2001

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — His classmates say he was threatened and harassed on his way to the bus stop and as he walked through the halls of Woodlands Middle School.
Last month, after a teacher reported finding the 13-year-olds bomb diagram, police searched the suburban Lantana middle school students home and found a bomb that turned out to be a fake.
The scare came just a few weeks after 15-year-old Charles Andrew Williams opened fire on his classmates at Californias Santana High School — killing two and wounding 13.
Charles classmates say he, too, was fed up with the bullies who mocked his big ears and slight frame and stole his skateboard and shoes.
In a post-Columbine era when even idle threats spark panic and nail clippers are considered weapons, educators in Palm Beach County, like others across the country, are zeroing in on bullying as a catalyst for campus violence.
In March, Palm Beach County school police officers started an anti-bullying program for third-graders. They point to victims-turned-shooters like Charles as proof that bullying is no longer just an innocent childhood annoyance.
"Bullying is nothing new," said Allison Adler, director of the Palm Beach County school districts Safe Schools Center. "The difference today is, the reactions are much more violent. Fifteen years ago, a kid might have fought back with his fists. Now he comes to school with a gun or a bomb."
"One of the strongest underlying factors behind why kids commit violent acts rests with the issue of real or perceived disrespect," said Ken Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services in Cleveland.
"To be constantly bullied, teased and harassed is demeaning and can be humiliating from the eyes of the victim."
Thats why school officials across the country are pledging "zero tolerance" for the teasing, name-calling and physical taunting that have long been considered an unpleasant but traditional rite of passage for adolescents.
In Palm Beach County, 12 school police officers assigned to more than two dozen elementary schools in March began an eight-week program that teaches third-graders how to defuse bully situations.
"It gets the kids talking about something they normally wouldnt because theyre ashamed and embarrassed," said school police Officer Cindy Newman-Frenier, who is teaching the program at Heritage, Indian Pines and Starlight Cove elementaries.
"Now theyre standing up to say, 'This is going on, and we dont like it.
"Theyve been so frustrated, and they just dont know what to do."
The district program also shows teachers, even school safety patrols, how to discourage bullying or stop it once it starts.
Through the new curriculum, third-grade victims also are learning to cope with a bully, in a way that doesnt lead to violence.
Last year, the U.S. Secret Service studied 37 school shootings dating to 1974 and found the most frequent motive was revenge — three-fourths of the attackers described feeling bullied, threatened and tormented. The study found as many as 7 percent of Americas eighth-graders skip school once a month to avoid bullies.
Only in recent years have the fatal possibilities of bullying become so clear.
Derik Lehman, a Royal Palm Beach High School student, got six months of house arrest and five years probation after pleading guilty to charges stemming from a plot to "do a Columbine" at his school last year. Police found a map of the school and a diary of shooting and bombing plans in the boys house.
Classmates later said some students called 17-year-old boy "fat" and "gay" because of a pink sweater he wore to school.
"Bullied kids today see guns as a neutralizer — no matter how small you are, the gun is powerful and grabs attention," said George Batsche, a school psychology professor at the University of South Florida.
"It evens the score. Thats why we cant afford to just let children settle bullying disputes among themselves anymore."


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