Monday, August 10, 2020
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Girl dies in H.S. bathroom fight in Del.

A high school sophomore who was known as a peacemaker was fatally wounded in a fight on April 21 in the bathroom at her high school, Howard High School of Technology in Wilmington, Delaware, the Associated Press reports.

Authorities didn’t initially release her name, but after it had been widely disseminated on social media, police identified the victim as 16-year-old Amy Inita Joyner-Francis, according to a report in the News-Journal.

A student who was reportedly in the bathroom at the time, was interviewed by a Philadelphia television station, WPVI. “[Amy] was fighting a girl, and then that’s when all these other girls started banking her—like, jumping her—and she hit her head on the sink.”

“This is a tragic time that we come before you,” Mayor Dennis P Williams of Wilmington said at a news conference broadcast on the local ABC affiliate. “My heart is broken.”

“The anti-bullying thing that schools put on, [students] don’t really listen to ’em,” a ninth grader at Howard was quoted as saying. “It honestly has to take something tragic like this to happen for them to actually open up their eyes.”

Reports suggest Amy was a quiet teen who counseled friends, didn’t believe in fighting, and did believe in talking things out peacefully. It’s sad that such a peace-loving teenager would meet a violent death in her high school, especially at the hands of an alleged bully.

In the US, students who lived in states with an anti-bullying law that includes at least one US Department of Education-recommended legislative component had lower odds of reporting bullying and cyberbullying compared with students in states whose laws had no such provisions, according to an article published by the American Medical Association in JAMA Pediatrics.

Currently, 49 states, including Delaware, have anti-bullying laws in place, although there has been very little empirical examination of their effectiveness. In an incident like this, we see a need for further study of the effectiveness of anti-bullying efforts, especially since Howard High School is not generally considered a school with a violence problem.

The US Department of Education recommends a framework for anti-bullying laws. In a 2011 report, the department reviewed the extent to which state anti-bullying laws adhered to those recommendations and found substantial heterogeneity across state policies.

“Bullying is a multifaceted phenomenon that requires a multi-pronged approach,” the October report concluded. “Although anti-bullying policies by themselves cannot completely eradicate bullying, these data suggest that such policies represent an important part of a comprehensive strategy for preventing bullying among youth.”

Even with policies in place that prove effective, though, on any given day, in any given high school bathroom, an incident like this can escalate quickly. When and how will students realize the importance of the anti-bullying messages coming from our school leaders and lawmakers? When will honor roll students like Amy not be killed while trying to make peace? That’s the question, and we call on our research community to investigate how we might make this happen.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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