Bullying victim urges lawmakers to require school policies

A high school girl told Missouri senators Wednesday they need to require the state’s public school districts to have policies about bullying — and to do something when bullying happens.

Sydney Wilhelm, a sophomore at Webster Groves High School in St. Louis County, told the Senate’s Education Committee they should endorse a bill already passed by the House, so it can be approved and sent to Gov. Jay Nixon.

Wilhelm said she was bullied in the 7th and 8th grades by “a group of popular girls at my school. The bullying took place in school, at school activities, off school property, over the Internet and (on) my cellphone.”

At school, she said, the girls would throw food at her, or wipe food on her, while they were in the middle school cafeteria.

“They tried to humiliate me by clapping every time I stood up in the cafeteria,” she recalled. “In the halls, they made fun of how I walked and called me names.

“They spread cruel rumors and false rumors about me. They stalked my house and they turned a majority of the students against me.”

She said the girls would call her cellphone “at all hours of the night, and they even gave my cellphone number out, to a group of boys from another school, just to harass me.”

She reported the incidents to school officials, she said — but nothing happened and nothing changed over the two-year period of almost daily bullying.

“I asked the girls to stop, and they didn’t,” Sydney reported. “My parents tried to call their parents, and their parents did nothing about it.”

When a principal did look into it, the teen said, “He investigated the bullying so poorly that it made it worse, causing retaliation, backlash and the loss of my friends. ...

“The bullying caused me to have anxiety, and I became depressed.”

Several senators praised the teen for her “bravery” in telling her story in a room full of adults.

But, Sydney’s mom, Michelle Wilhelm, told the committee, her daughter didn’t report the full story.

“These bullies were so relentless it got to the point where Sydney could no longer handle it emotionally, and started cutting (herself),” Michelle testified. “We had to admit Sydney into an outpatient psychiatric program for 12 school days, for the stress, anxiety and depression that the bullying has caused her.

“Sydney even attempted suicide but, thankfully, it was not successful.”

The committee was reminded of a different case in St. Louis County, in 2006, when an adult who lived nearby pretended to be a boy and, over the Internet, befriended a young girl who already had a history of being bullied.

The “boy” and another teenager then began posting rumors and hateful comments about the young girl — and Megan Meyer eventually committed suicide, hanging herself in her own clothes closet.

Sydney Wilhelm told the senators Wednesday: “Kids should not be afraid to go to school, and kids should feel safe at their school — which I did not. ...

“If the school had policies in place, and they had acted on these policies, these girls would have been disciplined and, probably, would have been forced to stop.”

Rep. Sue Allen, R-Town and Country, told the Senate committee her bill “recognizes that schools should have an anti-bullying policy so that everyone who comes in contact with a student knows what that policy is. ... All parents are given that information in a handbook — or however a district decides to present this information — so parents should know what that policy is, to protect their child.”

Some districts, including Jefferson City, already have policies.

Allen acknowledged she didn’t know how many districts don’t.

Representatives of the School Administrators Association, the Missouri National Education Association and the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence all testified for the bill, which passed the House on April 9 with a 141-10 vote.

No one spoke against it.

The committee will vote later on recommending the bill for Senate debate.

“Kids should feel that they can report bullying without the backlash from their bullies, their friends and the school itself,” Sydney Wilhelm testified. “Bullies should not be tolerated in schools or anywhere.”

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