BUFFALO, NY - Since the story broke that a Williamsville teenager committed suicide after being bullied, several viewers have e-mailed us about their own experiences.
Many have said schools aren't doing enough to protect their kids, and some have even alleged that school administrators don't understand the severity of the problem of bullying in their schools, or worse -- don't care.
"I don't know any school people that don't care," said West Seneca Schools Superintendent Mark Crawford. But the 37 year veteran of the education system acknowledges that there are members of the community that believe the opposite.
"I think when efforts to reach out to try and resolve some of these situations fail, people become very angry and very frustrated and someone has to be responsible for something being unsuccessful. But I think we do the best we can."
West Seneca, like virtually every other district, has developed a variety of anti-bullying programs and services.
Detective Tim Toth, who heads up the youth services division of the City of Tonawanda Police Department, believes schools could do a better job of strictly enforcing the anti-bullying policies they've put down on paper.
"It's great to tell the parents we have a bullying program in place, but until they take it serious and until the kids know there's consequences with what they do, the program is no good," said Toth, who has also spent several years working at the high school as a resource officer.
"Kids need to know bullying is a form of harassment, and from a police standpoint that's against the law. If the schools a want to report that to law enforcement, we can certainly follow up on that type of harassment," Toth said.
Toth also believes that despite the best efforts to thwart bullying, it has become worse than in prior generations, because the days when a kid could at least be free of tormentors while at home disappeared with the advent of social media, and the opportunities it brought for cyber bullying.
"We don't have the legal authority to intervene in a situation which exists between one child's computer and another child's computer when they are not being supervised when they are off school grounds," noted Crawford. "But that doesn't mean we don't care...and it doesn't mean we don't make efforts to intervene when we can. But we need people, when we do attempt to intervene, to respond to us."
Toth thinks that, besides teaching kids that it's unacceptable to be a bully, they need to be taught it's not acceptable to be bullied.
"We need to make sure these kids understand that it's okay stand up for themselves," Toth told WGRZ-TV. "Some kids who feel they can't stand up to a big, bad, bully find alternate means, and I think that's when we get into really bad problems and that's what we need to avoid."
Toth cited those "alternate means" as, "guns, knives, violence, and suicide," and pointed to the mass school shootings at Columbine as a tragic illustration of what can happen.
"I think this entire situation (the suicide of Jamey Rodemeyer) will raise everyone's awareness, and I'm hoping that everyone in Western New York will be able to address every situation of bullying that we become aware of, so that we can return peace to the victims," Crawford said.
2 On Your Side's Josh Boose took Toth's remarks to former Orchard Park School Superintendent Joan Thomas to ask how bullies are typically handled in the classroom.
"I always sat the student down and said do you understand what your words are doing?" said Thomas.
It sounds simple. But Thomas admits there can be hurdles. There's following school protocol, hearing both sides of the story and there's another problem, especially since so much bullying happens outside of the classroom on cell phones and on social media websites. And each case may require school attorneys to decide if schools can do anything at all.
"There is first amendment rights, 'I can say what I want', all of that kicks in to work against the school district, punishing someone if they put something out on Facebook," said Thomas. However, the parenting issues, and it's not the case I don't want it to be the case in Williamsville because these parents sounded like they were very much on top of everything, but I often think parents tend to enable more."
That's because, Thomas believes many parents can't imagine their child as a bully, especially if they don't act out at home.
But the biggest problem, she says, is getting kids who are bullied to speak out at all.
"I think that's where the system begins to fall down a little bit. Bullying is a tough situation to deal with," said Thomas. "If the victim reports, you have to make sure that the victim feels that he is supported enough that retaliation doesn't take place."
Thomas says to prevent retaliation bullies and victims can be separated in different classrooms and in different locations, but what happens outside of schools is a grey area a lot of the time.
Click on the video player to watch our story from 2 On Your Side Reporter Dave McKinley and Photojournalist Norm Fisher. You can also watch a video from 2 On Your Side Reporter Josh Boose and Photojournalist Bill Boyer.
Click here to read Dave McKinley's latest blog.