VA’s Short Pump Middle School struggles with racism and bullying

Hundreds of parents and concerned citizens poured into a meeting last week at Short Pump Middle School to discuss a video of students on the school’s football team sexually bullying black teammates.

Some folks chastised school officials for ignoring problems with racism at the Glen Allen, Virginia, school, while others alleged more videos show students of various races participating in the harassment. The turmoil serves as the latest example of the ongoing issues with bullying in American schools, and highlights the dire need for intentional character education to combat the problem.

The Short Pump incident occurred Oct. 13 in the school’s locker room, where some players simulated sex acts against black players, and the antics were recorded on video and shared with an allegedly racist caption, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports.

Many of the nearly 400 people who attended the Oct. 25 meeting focused on the race of victims in the video.

“There is a systemic problem of racism and bullying at Short Pump Middle School that is not being addressed,” parent Ngozi Ibe told Henrico County schools officials. “I feel like there is no specific policy to address racism and bullying.”

Other parents condemned the sexual harassment, but alleged the video is misleading.

“There were multiple unedited videos made in the locker room of a few adolescent boys from multiple racial background behaving very badly,” read parent Cheri David from a prepared statement from several parents of players on the team, according to the Times-Dispatch.

District and school officials convened the Wednesday night meeting to update the public on how they’re handling the situation, and actions they’ve taken to prevent similar situations in the future.

Officials canceled the football team’s season, but allowed practices to continue with mandatory discussions on racial tolerance and ethics. They also fired one of the team’s coaches and formed a districtwide committee “to monitor and advise on issues related to equity, race relations, tolerance and ethics,” the news site reports.

“The need is greater than just this community,” superintendent Patrick Kinlaw said at the meeting. “There’s much more work that needs to be done.”

The situation in Glen Allen isn’t unique. Schools across the country are grappling with similar bullying situations, and students and administrators are responding in a variety of ways. Researchers are also looking closer at the issues driving the problem, CultureFeed reports:

(T)he best anti-bullying program is a devotion to forming the moral lives of students in ways that allow them and their peers to flourish. As Ann Marie Gardinier Halstead advocates, “rather than focus on punishing the perpetrator and preventing contact between the ‘bully’ and the ‘victim,’ let’s focus on teaching positive social behaviors such as respect, compassion, and kindness.” We might also include courage among such behaviors, as the virtue that turns bystanders into what one expert terms upstanders—the people who intervene in something wrong to do what is right.

The Jubilee Centre provides lessons for students and teachers on kindness, respect, courage and other qualities that can set a school’s expectations and habits.