By Michael Hill
When the governor’s Anti-Bullying Task Force was completing its final report, the details of an alleged bullying on the Robbinsville High School wrestling team went before the local school board.
“It wasn’t this one event where he whipped me. I was whipped and after I went back in the locker room. And when I said, ‘What did I ever do to you?’ He decided to say, ‘Shut up or I’ll beat the **** out of you.’ When his dad says he wasn’t malicious, what was he then?” asked Braydon Mackey, the alleged victim.
Two-time district wrestling champion Dylan James apologized and pleaded to be allowed back on the team.
“I want to apologize to him publicly. As well, I want to apologize to all my teammates, my peers and the community. At no time did I mean to be malicious or harmful, for I now see how my actions were construed and I can’t apologize enough,” James said.
The board rejected his plea and a week later, the Mercer County prosecutor charged James with aggravated assault and other crimes. His father claimed James had been hazed and bullied, too, and that it was part of the culture.
Robbinsville has hired an outside consultant, a motivational speaker, to address the issues of harassment, intimidation and bullying well beyond the wrestling team, hoping he can pin an end to the issues in the entire district.
Former Penn State football captain and author Lee Rubin crisscrosses New Jersey and the country to show leaders how to lead in the corporate world and the classroom and the locker room.
“You may think it’s just part of the tradition of what we do here. But, as a leader, as anyone, it’s critical to see the other side of the coin, right? To have some empathy, to put yourself on the other side of that position or to put someone you care about on the other side of that act, that tweet, that post, that behavior,” Rubin said.
Rubin echoes the chair of the anti-bullying task force — that it’s about changing a culture or climate.
“We know that the number one way to really reduce incidences of harassment, intimidation and bullying, is to create the type of school climate where those incidents are least likely to occur,” said New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association Executive Director Pat Wright.
Wright says since its inception four years ago, the task force’s work has led to a decline in the number of reported HIB (harassment, intimidation and bullying) complaints and an increase in school programs to educate about HIB.
Wright presented the task force’s recommendations to the state school board, among them identifying power imbalances, giving principals greater latitude to determine whether to investigate a complaint and a fund for more programs.
“We do think it’s more important to initiate that fund again because we feel we don’t want to lose that momentum,” Wright said.
“I wanted to vomit when I read them,” said Rutherford Institute attorney Mike Daily.
Daily represents cases for the Rutherford Institute. He says the recommendations make NJ’s toughest-in-the-nation anti-bullying law go even further.
“Basically what it comes down to is if one student says something that another student finds offensive that can be spun into bullying. That’s strangling young minds at their source,” he said.
Anti-bullying instructor Darryl Walls and others say the task force’s recommendations have largely been ignored and the decline in HIB cases is at risk of plateauing and going in the opposite direction.
“It’s like having a game plan, and then not having the resources to put the uniforms on and the needs and resources to get it done. We can’t even send out our team because they’re not prepared,” said Walls, founder and CEO of MINDS Leadership Consulting Firm.
Walls and others are eager to see what will come of the task force’s final report.