Liberty Middle School has an anti-bullying policy. But something went badly wrong last week when 12-year-old Blake Kitchen ended up in a hospital after being beaten unconscious by an older, much larger boy.
Blake’s mother and grandfather had told school officials that the older boy had been harassing Blake’s 14-year-old brother, Preston. As Blake recovers at home from injuries, including a broken jaw and fractured skull, they understandably wonder why the school did not protect its students.
That is a pertinent question for the Liberty School District. Its middle school had a bullying prevention system. Students were encouraged to report incidents. And yet bullying escalated into a violent assault.
The district must conduct an unbiased investigation. What were the warning signs? Had other students complained about the eighth-grader who was taken to Clay County Juvenile Court after the attack on Blake?
Destiny Kitchen, Blake’s mother, told reporters the school principal twice talked to her older son and the eighth-grader. But the older boy’s hostile behavior was clearly not confined to a conflict with only Preston. Did the school underestimate his capacity for violence?
The district must use this painful incident as a learning tool. Parents deserve a full accounting. The findings may be of use to other school districts.
The attack on Blake, who weighs a bit more than 70 pounds, is a chilling reminder that students can be at severe risk where they go to learn and grow. Adults must do more to keep them safe.