NOW:53129:USA00949
http://widgets.journalinteractive.com/cache/JIResponseCacher.ashx?duration=5&url=http%3A%2F%2Fdata.wp.myweather.net%2FeWxII%2F%3Fdata%3D*USA00949
89°
H 89° L 66°
Cloudy | 13MPH

Greendale High bomb threat prompts discussion of bullying

Oct. 2, 2012

Greendale - The bomb threat on the wall of the boys' bathroom appeared before homecoming at Greendale High School last month: 3 DAYS TILL BOOM JK OR AM I?

Five days later, news of the arrest of Greendale senior Nicholas Olson, 17, spread quickly. But a twist in the case became the real talker: Instead of being charged with a felony for the alleged crime, prosecutors recommended a misdemeanor for Olson because of reports of prolonged teasing at the hands of his peers, including being voted onto the homecoming court as a joke this fall.

The incident now raises fresh questions about the extent and impact of peer bullying in area schools. Several Greendale parents say Olson's experience has exposed an undercurrent present in the district for years in this Milwaukee County suburb often applauded for its great schools and small-town feel.

Others say it's an opportunity to discuss more openly issues of school culture, respect and peer-to-peer behavior, a difficult area for many adults to police when students have multiple avenues to mistreat peers that go beyond outright verbal or physical abuse.

Olson is to make his first court appearance Wednesday. His misdemeanor charge carries a maximum penalty of a $1,000 fine and 90 days in prison. As for Greendale, bomb threats are offenses that warrant discipline up to and including expulsion in schools.

Steve Lodes, principal of Greendale High School, said the incident involving Olson has prompted discussions about what can be learned from the situation.

"Our challenge is: What should we be looking for?" he said in an interview Tuesday.

It can be hard for administrators to thwart some instances of bullying, for example, if the student being mistreated doesn't speak up.

"At the high school, we try to focus on students embracing the lifelong skill of being a self-advocate," Lodes said. "We want them to speak up to a trusted adult when something is going wrong or something 'doesn't feel right.' "

Olson's family declined to be interviewed, but others describe the boy as a student who operated outside of popular circles. Shy, he engaged with peers online more than in person.

His biggest defender has been his cousin, Jesse Johnston, who plays on Greendale's football team.

On Sept. 25, the day that Olson was arrested, Johnston posted to his Twitter stream that "bullying can lead to serious problems." He called out others peers for mistreating Olson, adding: "Nick Olson is not like this. He is a great guy. Honestly he's my cousin, he just got involved with the wrong crowd growing up."

In a conversation over Twitter this week, Johnston told a Journal Sentinel reporter he thought people "finally saw what happened" after someone got bullied for four years straight.

"A threat happened," he said.

According to a criminal complaint, Olson reported that he had been teased all his life, and that he was upset and angry when he wrote the threat on the bathroom wall. He stated he did not have a plan to use an explosive device and hurt anyone.

The specifics of long-term bullying that Olson experienced are not clear. One classmate offered that students had some nicknames for him, but that Olson was generally regarded as a quiet outsider.

Then last year, a staff person tallying student votes for prom court noticed an unusual number of votes for Olson.

Lodes was notified.

Voting an unlikely candidate to a dance court is not unprecedented at Greendale High School. Ballot sheets include all students in the class or classes eligible for voting, and students select more than a dozen.

A previous court vote had brought on a different boy who was not the stereotypical star athlete or front-runner in the popular crowd. But according to students and staff, the young man was all right with the appointment, and even a little proud.

The latest dance court vote, for homecoming this fall, brought in more nominations for Olson.

It was enough to get him on court.

When staff approached him about it, Olson made it clear he had no intention of going. He declined the nomination.

Then at some point on the Thursday before the dance, according to the complaint, Olson headed for the bathroom with a blue pen.

Lodes said Tuesday the school will work with students to overhaul the court-selection process.

On paper and in practice, Greendale's school system seems to have everything in place for positive school culture.

A modest district enrollment of about 2,600 students - with around 950 at the high school - allows personal relationships to flourish between staff and students. The district has preserved many in-school and after-school clubs and activities that have fallen prey to budget cuts elsewhere.

Two years ago Greendale began a districtwide emphasis - which continues today, according to administrators - on bullying awareness. Character development programs are in place. The school reaches out to parents with new programs.

A new student-family assistance program offers free therapy and counseling sessions with medical professionals from Aurora Health Care. Issues addressed in visits last year ranged from drug abuse and marital issues to concerns with school staff, according to district records.

But some parents say more could be done.

Cherie Swiercz, a mother of a student at Greendale Middle School, said teachers and principals need to make sure they're not making light of situations that may seem minor to them, but more significant to a student or parent.

"I think that parents and faculty need to listen to students a little more," she said.

This site uses Facebook comments to make it easier for you to contribute. If you see a comment you would like to flag for spam or abuse, click the "x" in the upper right of it. By posting, you agree to our Terms of Use.

Suburban News Roundup

E-mail Newsletter

Your link to the biggest stories in the suburbs delivered Thursday mornings.


Enter your e-mail address above and click "Sign Up Now!" to begin receiving your e-mail newsletter
Get the Newsletter!

Login or Register to manage all your newsletter preferences.

Community Watch

» Milwaukee County Parks extends Oak Leaf Trail to OakView Business Park 10:31 AM

» The Academy of Performing Arts to host 2nd annual 'Trunk or Treat' event 09:08 AM

» Greendale High School reaches new ACT average 8/31

» Get interesting prep football tidbits and insights with 'First and Short' blog 8/28

» Franklin football team emphatic in 37-0 rout of area rival Greendale 8/27

» Updated weekly rankings of area prep football teams and players 8/27

» Greendale Education Foundation announces new calendar raffle fundraiser 8/27

» Greendale's Park and Recreation holds contest for new logo 8/27

» Reiman Chapel in Franklin to host blessing, tour for public 8/26

» Young Oak Creek football team makes impression with rout of Falls 8/25

» Greendale police searching for strong-arm robbery suspect 8/25

» Greendale man killed in Washington County crash Updated:  8/25

» Oak Creek man killed in Sauk County traffic accident 8/25

» Oak Creek tennis team wins South Milwaukee Invite 8/25

» Oak Creek community buries time capsule at future city hall 8/25

» Initial Reaction Podcast: What stood out on the first week of high-school football? 8/25

» Oak Creek-Franklin School Board receives voter approval to add two more seats 8/24

» Oak Creek-Franklin School District approves preliminary budget, calls for tax rate increase 8/24

» Tickets now available for Oak Creek's Pig and Chicken Roast 8/24

» Franklin shows its special qualities 8/21

» Youthful Oak Creek football team impresses in 26-0 win over Falls 8/21

» Honeywell volunteers help repair Greendale veteran's home 8/21

» Fire destroys garage in Franklin 8/21

» Greendale residents can receive free 'File of Life' documents from Health Department 8/20

» The 2015 Suburban Milwaukee Prep Football Guide 8/19

View All Posts Got a tip? Welcome rss

Advertisement

Advertisement

Local Business Directory

CONNECT    

Advertisement

Most Popular