MAGNA - Bullying -- it's a problem with lasting effects, and yet it continues to grow in our schools. A Utah mother says bullying drove her young son to end his life rather than face it another day.
Buddy Peterson was always a happy child, according to his parents, Bud and Karen.
The seventh-grader was an athlete who loved everybody, most at home on the football field. He was a big kid who loved to learn. But behind his big smile and sweet nature was unimaginable suffering.
"All he wanted to do was go to school and fit in," said Karen.
It costs so little to be kind and it costs too much to be cruel.
–Brenda Hales, Utah Deputy Superintendent
Fitting in proved to be a struggle for Buddy. His parents wanted to challenge him academically, so they moved him out of this public school into Alianza Academy, a charter school in Magna, when he started 6th grade.
Soon, however, the normally-anxious learner didn't want to go to school anymore.
"He didn't want to get up in the morning to go to school," said Karen. "It was a fight to get him out of bed in the morning."
Buddy finally told his parents he was being bullied at school. Karen and Bud say they immediately called the school administration, looking for a solution. They say they were in constant contact with the school and were told the kids responsible wouldn't be attending the next year.
But several of those students were re-admitted, they say. And when Buddy started 7th grade, the bullying started right where it had left off.
"They would badger him and bully him and hit him both mentally and physically until they saw an adult coming," said Karen.
Halfway through the year, the Petersons tried to transfer Buddy back to his old school, but Jordan School District told them it was at capacity. Citing Utah law, the district would not readmit him until the start of the new year.
Join KSL in designating this Friday, "Be a Friend Friday." Do something kind for someone else, then post a picture on social media using the hashtag #beafriend.
District officials offered to transfer Buddy to a different school outside of his area, but worrying about uprooting Buddy, the Petersons chose to home school him instead. They put Buddy in counseling and things seemed to be improving.
But on Jan. 13, they learned just how much the bullying had affected their only son.
"It was a Sunday night. I can tell you it was 9:27 when we heard the shot," said Karen. "My world had just crashed. My world had just ended."
Buddy left a note, which referred to the bullying. He was just 13 years old.
KSL contacted Alianza Academy to learn about its procedures to address the bullying involving Buddy Peterson. School officials declined our request for an interview, citing the Family Educational Rights and Privilages Act.
They said in response to Buddy's death they will increase their anti-bullying prevention policies, but would not give us any specifics about their current policy or plans to upgrade it.
Utah's Bullying and Hazing Law states each school must have an anti-bullying policy in place, but Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, who sponsored that law in 2008 believes it needs to be updated.
First and foremost, the current law classifies bullying as physical abuse only.
"It's social and it's emotional and it involves harassment, both verbal and other ways," said Moss.
She believes the law should also include:
- emotional bullying
- persistent abuse
- an imbalance of power (examples: a bully who is bigger or older, or several bullies against one person)
- an intent to cause harm
Moss believes the law Jordan School District cited to prohibit Buddy from transferring back to his original school mid-year should be altered to include an exception for children who are bullied.
Be nice to each other. I want to be able to say that my son's death was not in vain.
–Karen Peterson, Buddy's mother
"It's a cultural thing that I think is going to take everyone's cooperation to fix," said State Deputy Superintendent Brenda Hales.
Few people understand the need for a culture change more than Hales.
"There's a need for every school and every district to take a look at what they're doing in terms of preventing bullying," she said.
The Utah Department of Education has a model bullying policy available for schools to build upon, but Hales says they should consider a streamlined policy for schools, rather than each school putting their own policy into action.
She says it will take more than once-a-year training, more than a school assembly. Households, schools, and communities need to unite in a spirit of acceptance and kindness.
"It costs so little to be kind and it costs too much to be cruel," said Hales.
Karen Peterson hopes this is a message people take to heart.
"Be nice to each other," she said. "I want to be able to say that my son's death was not in vain."
If you're worried your child might be suffering from bullying or suicidal thoughts, there is 24-hour help available:
Utah Crisis Line: 1-801-587-3000 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255)