Hello, and welcome to my website. I must say that I thank you for visiting and hope you will take the time to read over what is said on these pages.
Bullying has become a serious issue. It seriously affects the safety and wellbeing of our children whether it happens in school or out. Many years ago one could escape the school bully by running home where children could find safety from predators. Nowadays they can invade our home via the internet, cell phones and virtually anywhere. There has been so much research on the subject it would take a person working full time almost 10 years to read it all. But reading is not enough, it has to be put to action…something has to change. Please don’t misunderstand me; bullying takes place everywhere and has many shapes; from the workplace and the home to our schools. I’m attempting to limit this to the ones who are much less able to help themselves…our children. It is the responsibility of schools and their faculty to deal with this epidemic. Let’s face it, a good deal has already been done, policies implemented and rules changed. But this hasn’t been enough. Bullying is worse than ever and it’s affecting our children and their futures as productive well-adjusted adults. As this subject is too broad to address in its entirety I will limit it to my story, how has it affected me as well how it still affects me, and how we can collaborate to defeat bullying in our schools once and for all.
My name is Kirk Gruenewald and I was severely bullied while attending Washoe County School District in Nevada from November 29th, 1971 until August 28th, 1977. This is my story and it all began on Nov 29th, 1971.
At the age of 11 I was doing especially well enrolled at Ridgewood Military Academy located in Woodland Hills California. This academy taught us to be leaders while pursuing academic excellence. The academy taught grades 1 through 9 and the older grades boys (7, 8, and 9) would lead the other grades as officers. Our instructors Col Bruce Metcalf and the remainder of his staff, a mixture of retired military officers and instructors with tried and true values, taught us in the matters of academics, leadership, and the conduct of being an officer and a gentleman… though we were still boys. Here we learned to treat others with respect and we were likewise treated with respect. Life was good and I enjoyed being a part of something where I fit in. I was accepted there and I felt like I truly belonged. At the same time, I loved to learn and absorbed class work like a sponge. Simple, I loved school and I loved learning.
The day was on November 29th, 1971 and I was in the sixth grade. I remember this day perhaps much as older folks remember Pearl Harbor, December 7th, 1941. My parents received a wonderful opportunity to get out of Los Angeles and to pursue a career working in Mobile Home Sales. As such, I soon found myself enrolled in a public school in Washoe County, Nevada. It was shortly after when the trouble began.
To begin with, I must shed some light on the curriculum change I experienced. At the academy in California, we had excellent teachers for all normal subjects such as history, science, foreign language, etc. and I had already started the basics of algebra…and this as a fifth grader! As well, we had (not which would be considered extracurricular) military ceremonies, conduct, and leadership training. After starting school in Washoe County I found myself learning nothing close to my old school. No algebra, no foreign language, no conduct or leadership training, and on top of it all the school would not recognize my current academic level. I often wonder why I have not moved up a class, or even two. At the very least they could have provided me with a reason as to why I was put in a class well below my current academic level. I felt the quality of my education had plummeted from algebra to finger painting; it was humiliating and degrading on all levels.
During that time I was harassed continually. I would repeatedly find my locker broken into. I was physically assaulted by both students and teachers. One particular incident involved one faculty member actually choking me for being in the hallway. Even after bringing this to the administrator’s attention no action or investigation of the matter was ever pursued. Apparently, this was acceptable faculty behavior. I can imagine how a woman who has been raped must feel when she is assigned the blame for “leading him on”. Harassment by various peers occurred regularly while the teachers I would tell refused to take action saying that I was blowing out of proportion. I was beat up before, I was beaten up after school; no one would help at all. I felt I had no protection, nor was I provided a suitable environment to learn. I eventually just shut down and gave up, my life had become protecting myself. I would think often on the education that I wanted but I was not receiving. The school and its administrators were no help in the prevention of this bullying. It was a dreadful and frightening experience going to school; the one place on Earth besides church that a kid should feel safe.
Being from a military school in the early 70’s certainly its drawbacks. It was indeed a trying time for everyone. With the highly unpopular war in Vietnam, civil unrest and the war on discrimination, and political scandals all the way to the presidency, people were in much a sense fired up and ready to fight for anything they believed in. If they thought you were gay, it was trouble. If they thought you were a “commie” you were in trouble. If you were a returning soldier from a war many blamed you for, it was trouble. And, if you were a young kid in a public school, fresh from military school, you were certainly in trouble. During this time the military was as a public brand, the scarlet letter all over again; we know the stories. The general stigma I found myself chained to made life very difficult for me. Imagine being labeled as “Baby Killer in Training”; this is exactly what happened, and not just by my peers… teachers as well. This was the start but certainly not the end.
I never thought my situation could get any worse; I was wrong. In 1975 after enrolling at Earl Wooster High School the bullying increased in frequency as well as intensity. And now it was it starting to happen in class. My friends a sympathetic bystander and even one of my counselors would declare “just walk away…”, or “get over it…” Yet after attempting to do just that it served only to increase the bullying in both magnitude and intensity. Being thrown into a garbage can on a daily basis was the routine. Virtually every day I would find my locker vandalized; obscenities, crazy glue, theft of belongings, you name it and it happened. Disheartening at best. It was hard to stay motivated or attentive to anything while in school. It’s difficult to concentrate and learn while planning a number of possible escapes from another beating. I suppose it was only a matter of time before it started happening in class, after this, I was no longer able to focus in the classroom. As this continued in its progression the boldness of these bullies was shocking. In class, when the teacher would look away someone would punch me, poke me, flick my ear, etc. I would do my best to ignore it, only serving to provoke the aggressors that much more. I remember one day during an educational movie someone actually set off a canister of tear gas. We all went outside until the air cleared and yet nothing was ever done about it. No one was punished, no one confessed, we never heard about it again. Fighting back was rewarded with twice the beating I learned to just take it, get it over with and move on. I can remember one particularly brutal beating where I was even threatened with death. Maybe it was just sheer bad luck or perhaps even a conspiracy but the few times I did fight back I was the one sent to the office and punished. These bullies are best described as the Terminator; no fear, no pity and no amount of reasoning would change the course. What seemed to me like a battle cry to action was met only with “there’s nothing we can do about it” from the administrators. Nothing we can do about it?!
In October 1976 I found a letter to my dad entitled “Operation Identification”. This was a program sponsored by the school under the pretext of identifying those with handicaps. To make a long story short, due to poor academic performance and erratic behaviors the school district was trying to label me with a mental handicap. Had my father signed the agreement I would have been transferred to the Marvin Piccolo School for special needs and labeled for life. You have to understand that unlike present times the mid to late ’70s had no protection for what was still referred to as retardation. Being labeled a retard would have destroyed all chances for a career, and a normal life.
Before my senior year in high school, I decided that I had been through enough. After trying to transfer schools I was informed that I did not have enough credits to enroll as a senior; I would have to enroll as a junior. Not feeling particular about doing another junior year I dropped out and went on to receive my GED. Following this were two failed attempts at a college, but, looking back I just wasn’t ready. So I did what a number of youngsters do in similar situations, I joined the military. At the AirForce, I was told that my GED would disqualify my enlistment. So I walked 16 steps to the Army recruiter’s office where they took me virtually without question, we were, remember, in troubled times. Before I really knew what was happening I was shipped off to boot camp.
I was not long in the Army. I was discharged within a year for not being aggressive enough as well as poor performance. I recall the devastation. If you’ll remember, while growing up the one place aside from home I felt I truly a part of something was in the military. And now I was not allowed to serve. This was the point where I truly gave up for a while. I ended up on the streets, and for the next 22 years, I stayed on them. If I can say one thing about being homeless it’s the disparity. No home, no safety, always looking over your shoulder and certainly almost always hungry. I made many attempts to revitalize myself, to find my place and build a life. However, if you have ever been homeless or, God forbid you still are, you understand how difficult it is to get off them. Eventually, but nearly 20 years later, I found a way out…and myself. But that’s another story altogether.
It wasn’t until 1992 that I was finally of both psychological and social health to file a seven million federal lawsuit against Washoe County school district and the Nevada Department of Education. For what happened to me as a child, for what was denied, for the abuse I suffered, I wanted the chance for equal opportunity at an education. In my eyes this case was not simply about justice, it was about equality and fairness. I was denied the same opportunities that others had, and I was determined to get it. This court battle would last three and a half years and went all the way to the Ninth Circuit Court in San Francisco, and without any help from a lawyer. Not able to get an attorney or anyone else to help I did it myself. To this day many have expressed surprise that I took it that far. I am at odds as to they’re surprised. Surprised that someone is seeking justice for a wrong? Pitted against Nevada’s Attorney General, much more versed in law than myself, I never really stood a chance. The case was eventually thrown out due to the statute of limitations. It had been too long and I was too late.
In October 1994 I enrolled in DeVry Institute of Technology, Kansas City Missouri. At the same time, I was trying to get my primary and high school education records. Both the Nevada Department of Education and Washoe County School District refused their release. In fact, it took the threat of a Congressional Inquiry before they would. No joke, I had to go to my Congressman! The fact that they would not release these records remains suspicious as to their motives. If you’re a publicly funded institution and have nothing to hide then why not give me what is mine to look at? Because they have something to hide that’s why.
I’ll make this final part short and sweet. I graduated DeVry in October 1996 with my degree. I had to pay my own way in cash to do it. No scholarships, no grants, no help. While accomplishing this I slept in my car and even a few abandoned houses, but I made it! I should not have had to struggle so hard though. How hard is it to just say you were wrong? The officials in Nevada weren’t even around when I was in school, just say so! Look we screwed up, we’re sorry, here’s enough money to pay for a place and get you through school. Why all the games and secrecy? Is your pride really worth your soul?
Further attempts to deal with the Washoe school district have resulted in silence. They will not return my calls, emails, letters, or any other form of contact. In 2007 the Nevada Department of Education still would not furnish further documentation available as public records. In fact, they sent a letter that would not even acknowledge that I graduated with my GED from Western Nevada Community College, right in their back yard…funny, it’s hanging on my wall. Why aren’t employees and officials who receive their pay funded by our tax dollars not accountable? Are they not public servants? Since when does the servant ignore the one who puts a roof over his head? …never bite the hand that feeds. In sixteenth-century England a servant ignoring his king was punishable by death; nowadays it’s rewarded.
I was denied an education and the wreckage to my life has been formidable. I will wonder for the rest of my days if I could have been an engineer rather than an activist, a CEO rather than a militant, or even an astronaut rather than a radical. I certainly would have had a military career and retired as either a Captain or a Major; I’ll never know. I’m getting too old now, my ideals of the traditional American dream are fading, you know, house, white picket fence, corner office, etc. As sink into my older years, I have had to accept the need to leave behind any foolish notions of a career. I attribute this all to two things, bullying and the failure of administrators and adults to do the right thing and stop it. Who knows what could have been if I had been allowed an education from the start.
Bullies, no matter whether they are school children, adults, or Government officials or the CEO of a large corporation in a three-piece suit should never be rewarded for their behaviors nor protected from the lynch mobs, period! No ifs and or buts. Never, never, never.
To Washoe County school district and the Nevada Department of Education:
I’m quite sure there are some who might read this and think, “That happened such a long time ago, just get over it”. Well… it’s not just about getting over it. Others are still in harm’s way, others might have it so bad that they are willing to shoot their classmates and teachers. Remember Columbine High School, Westside Middle School, Lyndhurst High School, and over 200 more since 1970? Remember the mild-mannered Jose Reyes that just shot a math teacher and then himself in one of your schools?
The incompetence of Washoe County is legendary. This is only compounded with your refusal to handle or deal with the mess left in the wake of your predecessors. How many more kids must suffer and die before you will take action and do what is right? How many more children will find themselves’ lost in the system with poor prospects for a healthy future before you will address and deal with your bullies and troublemakers? These kids you refuse to deal with are the real problem. They only serve to hold back and disrupt the kids who want to learn. Deal with it!
So why aren’t things changing? Why is bullying worse than ever? It’s because the liars on television paint you a sweet and loving story of how these new laws, on top of thousands of other forgotten laws, will solve the problem. They tell us that somehow more gun control will stop the madness. So with no more guns available then there will no longer be people like this seeking revenge? Somehow they just won’t exist, or at least without guns, they won’t be upset anymore? In what way, will a few new sentences in the law books prevent the frustrated sole from shooting children and teachers? You know what the real problem is…its complacency. And it’s not just the 3 piece suit wearing bureaucrats…it’s all of us, we are all responsible and we are all accountable. Have we here in America grown so fat, lazy, greedy and self-absorbed with our own needs and desires to care? We all say we care, at yet it’s still happening. The time for cheap talk is over, the time to act and to get involved is now!
“The greatest obstacle to those who hope to reform American education is complacency”