by Kate Snyder
It is the nightmare scenario people read about and pray they never encounter in their own lives—a child harassed and bullied, has tried to hurt themselves. It’s the kind of tragedy that Kiana Arellano and her family experienced in 2013, when Kiana, who was well-liked at school and described as smart, sassy and kind-hearted, attempted to take her own life.
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As Kiana was struggling to survive in the ICU, her family discovered vicious anonymous texts that Kiana had received. Kiana survived, but her life was forever altered. She was left with a severe brain injury, is wheelchair bound and is only able to communicate through “eye gazing.” As soon as they were able, the Arellano family starting organizing to pass legislation to protect other children from cyber bullying, with the hope that no other family would ever experience what they had. On July 1, 2015, Governor Hickenlooper signed “Kiana’s Law,” Colorado’s first cyber bullying legislation.
“As a school counselor I know there is a real urgency to educate about mental health, bullying and school climate,” says Suzie Gannett, a 33-year veteran educator who worked with Kiana’s family. “This may be Kiana’s story, but unfortunately it is a story that is becoming all too familiar across our country. There is no doubt social media has changed the game when it comes to bullying and parents may feel helpless. We need to take action to make changes and provide the tools to deal with these challenges.” Gannett is a facilitator for the Student Bullying Group on the NEA edCommunities network.
Gannett and Kiana’s parents were shocked to find out that because the vicious comments and threats were made electronically, the family had no legal recourse- they were not legally able to identify the anonymous person who sent the texts. Kristy, Kiana’s mother, reached out to the State House Representative Rhonda Fields who represents Aurora, CO. Fields, who also serves as the speaker pro tempore, became their champion in passing Kiana’s Law.
Since this tragedy Gannett has worked with Kiana’s family, who are willing to tell their story, to educate other educators, community members and parents about cyber bullying and how to prevent it. Gannett also has worked with students who have pursued innovative ideas on how to stop their peers from cyber bullying, and she has been an advocate for training educators at the district and state level. Visit NEA’s bullying prevention resource page: www.nea.org/bullyfree.
“More than half of young people report being cyber bullied, and between 10 and 20 percent report being cyber bullied regularly. While there are many factors that contribute to teen suicide, we need to change the culture around cyber bullying. Educators can take the lead making this change and building the connection with our students, we are the ones who must be advocates for them,” says Gannett.
Educate yourself and inform your colleagues. Laws vary greatly from state to state when it comes to cyber bullying. Only 18 states include cyber bullying in their anti-bullying legislation. Take action now by signing the NEA Bully Free: It Starts With Me pledge.