By ADAM SCHRADER and LISA L. COLANGELO
Published in The New York Daily News on Aug. 22, 2016
A Staten Island teen who took his own life after being mercilessly bullied should have received unconditional support from his school, experts said Monday at the first ever conference sponsored by the New York Jets and the organization Stomp Out Bullying.
The suicide of 13-year-old Daniel Fitzpatrick was on the minds of educators and panelists at the conference at the Jets’ Florham Park, N.J., training camp as they shared ways to prevent and detect bullying while supporting victims.
“If a child is coming to you and they’re hurt and they feel like something is wrong, the best thing is listening and being there and being able to engage with that child,” said Alexander Levy, 17, a teen ambassador for Stomp Out Bullying.
Levy said schools should not doubt students in pain or ask for proof of bullying.
Experts have said bullying is pervasive, from Daniel’s heartbreaking death to Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s mockery of disabled and women journalists.
Even Olympic superstar gymnast Gabby Douglas was the victim of vicious cyberbullying because she didn’t hold her hand over her heart for the National Anthem during the games in Rio.
“When kids see this, they’re picking up the behavior from the adults in their lives and the trolls online,” said Ross Ellis, who started Stomp Out Bullying to raise awareness and education.
Ellis said she has met with Marvel Comics, which is planning anti-bullying-themed issues with superheroes.
Celebrity psychologist Jeff Gardere was reluctant to draw conclusions about Daniel’s tragic case. But he said it’s important to note the teen didn’t feel supported by staffers at Holy Angels Catholic Academy in Brooklyn.
“We do know that has been an ongoing complaint by many of our students,” said Gardere, who appeared on VH1’s “Love & Hip Hop Atlanta.” “The schools are not getting involved as much.”
Nick De Mauro, a former police officer who oversees drug abuse education programs, said many teachers and administrators are slow to act on bullying complaints because they fear lawsuits.
“Unfortunately, we live in a society where everyone wants to sue everybody,” he said. “They’ve put a burden on teachers and administrators and really forced their hand to require proof and it’s become problematic.”
The panelists also stressed the importance of counseling, compassion and empathy for individuals who are bullying, since they may have serious problems.
Jets wide receiver Eric Decker made a surprise appearance to show his support. Decker was a student at Rocori High School in Minnesota, where two students were shot in 2003. The shooter, another student, said he had been bullied.
“It could get a lot worse if it wasn’t for you guys,” Decker told the crowd, urging parents to also educate their children about bullying.