As school officials across Cape Ann prepare for the start of a new academic year — less than two weeks away for Rockport and Manchester Essex — the workshops and conversation, at some point, will almost certainly turn to bullying.
But if any or all local districts are looking for examples on how to address what always has been, remains, and likely always will be a problem for schools and other institutions, especially those dealing with young people, they need not reach out to any consultants. Just call Executive Director Tim Flaherty and the Cape Ann YMCA, who clearly and rightfully seemed to take the proverbial bull by the horns in confronting such an issue there earlier this week.
According to a report from Gloucester Police, who were properly called to the scene by a YMCA director, the incident began when three 13-year-old boys began “bullying” a 7-year-old boy in the Y’s locker room. Police found that the three older boys were insulting the young child about his weight, then followed him into the shower, snapping towels at him. One boy struck the younger boy in the stomach, leaving a noticeable red mark, police said.
Now, none of that may sound like a case of high crimes and misdemeanors, and some may recall similar incidents that they may have endured or witnessed in the past. But the fact is, such an experience could have been both intimidating and traumatizing for the younger child, who may well now be wary of going into the locker room — or to the Y at all.
But if such behavior — indeed, any case of three cowardly 13-year-old kids acting like big macho, tough guys and harassing a 7-year-old for anything — was ever seen as acceptable, it sure isn’t now. It really never should have been, and it can never be again.
That’s the message sent by Flaherty and the Y. After a staff investigation, Flaherty suspended the membership and thus facility use privileges of all three of these 13-year-old children indefinitely, and spoke with at least two of the boys’ parents while still trying to contact the third.
Flaherty was absolutely right in noting that “we’ve got to take every incident here seriously.”
“The kids need to understand the seriousness of what they’re trying to do,” Flaherty said.
Losing membership rights for which their parents have paid should indeed drive home the point to kids who clearly need a good, hard lesson.
Let’s hope they heard the message loud and clear — and that schools also reach out to police for help with enforcing a no-tolerance policy like the Y’s.
Flaherty and all of the YMCA staffers who stepped up in this case deserve credit for a job well done.