Altoona must look internally

There apparently was a crack, if not a chasm, within the Altoona Area School District’s anti-bullying policies that was allegedly responsible for seventh-grader Wyatt Lansberry’s decision to take his own life.

And while it’s troubling to feel impelled to make such an observation, it must be concluded that more than a handful of people — young and not-so-young — could have helped avert this tragedy, if they had acted correctly on his behalf, rather than, for whatever reason, choosing not to do so.

No school district resident should harbor the outrageous belief that no one other than Wyatt and the individual or individuals subjecting him to torment knew what was happening.

Yet everyone who was aware allowed the torment to continue for what apparently was an extended period; one instance of bullying seldom, if ever, triggers a suicide.

Meanwhile, the shocking allegation at a school board meeting last week that Wyatt had notified a counselor about the bullying to which he was being subjected, if true, lends credence to the theory that the district’s anti-bullying efforts have sometimes been more on paper than consisting of necessary, concerted, official, aggressive responses.

That “on-paper” belief was clearly evident during the angry comments parents directed at the school board and district administration during last week’s board session.

Even parents whose children never have been bullied feel betrayed by the allegations that the district has not been strict enough, aggressive enough or bold enough in regard to bullying.

It’s too bad that it took a death to bring those widely held negative opinions to the forefront for all to see.

Hopefully, other school systems will take note of what’s happening here and respond appropriately.

Altoona Area is a large school district, but not too large to deal with the bullying problem effectively. However, something went wrong, and whatever errors might have occurred in enforcing the anti-bullying mandates already in place must prey on the district’s conscience, going forward.

To the district’s credit, it’s now responding proactively, albeit belatedly, to try to forever prevent another situation like Wyatt’s. It has hired a Pittsburgh lawyer specializing in education law to review the district’s policies, procedures and operational systems K-12, with a focus on student services.

That lawyer will identify shortcomings within current policies and procedures and provide advice on how to correct them.

The recommendations need to be in place by the time fall classes begin.

Perhaps one idea that needs consideration, even as the lawyer continues her review, is beefed-up, mandatory anti-bullying training for all district employees.

And as Altoona police continue investigating the circumstances surrounding Wyatt’s death, district students should be reflecting on the permanent ramifications ahead for those who allegedly bullied Wyatt.

Even if there are no bases for any criminal charges against those who allegedly tormented Wyatt, those individuals will, for the rest of their lives, have to live with the reality of having been responsible for another person’s death.

“I hope something good comes from this,” Wyatt wrote in the suicide note he left behind.

District officials have the obligation to ensure that his wish comes to pass.

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