The log of complaints about bullying at Sacred Heart College which inform our lead story today makes harrowing reading.
The gradual and insidious escalation of the incidents from comments such as "freak" and "weirdo" for which students go unpunished or only lightly admonished, to outright physical assaults and online mob-rousing are a textbook example of negative, learned behaviour.
That any school board in New Zealand - a nation which traditionally prides itself on level playing fields and a fair deal - could allow this to happen seems unconscionable - rather than the Chief Ombudsman's finding against the school board of "unreasonable" or "ineffective".
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Verbatim, Peter Boshier's wording in his letter to the boy's parents is: "I have now formed the final opinion that the board's handling of your complaint and its response ... were unreasonable."
Shouted abuse such as 'f***tard' and 'gay b******' should never be dismissed as 'just being a little high spirited'.
"The fact that [his] health suffered as a result of the continual bullying, necessitating his withdrawal from school before the end of the school year, is indicative that the college was ineffective in dealing with the behaviour concerned, and had failed to provide your son with a safe environment."
Unfortunately, the actions which arose after the taunting of this lad went unreprimanded have a coincidental echo in the inability of the Chief Ombudsman to deal with the matter.
Boshier points out himself in his letter to the lad's parents: "I have recommended that the board apologise to you for the manner in which your complaint was handled. I have asked to be informed of the board's implementation of my recommendation. However, I cannot direct that it act on it. Ombudsmen have no authority to enforce their recommendations.
"Although I recognise that it will be of no material benefit to you given that [your son] is no longer at the school, I have sought to encourage the board when reviewing the school's harassment and bullying policies, that it refer to ERO's guide published in May this year, entitled 'Bullying prevention and response: A guide for schools'. This is a valuable resource and I am hopeful that the board will see fit to rely on it when assessing the adequacy of its existing policies."
It's a sad truth that New Zealand students report higher rates of bullying at school than most other OECD countries. And it sets a pattern which resonates into the adult worlds of work, recreation and relationships.
As we noted in our editorial last week, a comprehensive study of a group of young people born in Wellington in 1988-89 found a fourth had contemplated suicide in the past year, one in five had sought help for mental problems.
Report author Cathy Wylie noted a third of these 26-year-olds said they had been hassled or bullied at least once in the past year and she linked this to the prevalence of mental unwellness.
It's that serious. Shouted abuse such as "f***tard" and "gay b******" should never be dismissed as "just being a little high spirited".
Unreasonable, ineffective, inadequate, unconscionable are only words, after all. But words are where bullying begins. It is important to call it for what it is: "Unacceptable".
And one more word - for bullies and, especially, those in a position to intervene - to pin at the forefront of any response to all such behaviour: "Stop."