It’s only September, but 8-year-old Ryan Suffern may have already written this holiday season's most heartbreaking letter to Santa.
"Dear Santa ... I wanted a remot contor car and helieopter, but I don't want that anymor. Kid at school are still picking on Amber and its not fair," Ryan writes. "I prayed that they will stop but god is bisy and needs your help. Is it against the rules to give gift early? [all sic]"
According to CNN, this wasn't what Karen Suffern, single mother of fraternal twins Ryan and Amber, was expecting when she asked her children to write early letters to Santa. She simply wanted to get a head-start budgeting for holiday gifts. But her son's plea to the famously jolly North Pole denizen drew Suffern's attention to the dire woes her daughter was facing at North Carolina's Rocky Mount Preparatory.
A statement on the school's website reads, in part:
We are hyper-vigilant at Rocky Mount Prep to prevent, intervene and protect our scholars from instances such as this. Our teachers and staff have received training to recognize and address these types of behaviors, and we are proud of the way they respond. We are saddened that this has taken place within our school family, and we can assure all of our parents, scholars and community that we will continue to do everything possible to provide them with a positive and safe learning environment.
Amber's not alone in her struggles. In North Carolina, 42 percent of middle school students and 20 percent of high school students experience bullying, according to data cited in the state's Center for Safer Schools 2013 Report. The impacts of school bullying are profound: A recently published study of 1,400 students in North Carolina found that bullying victims are at "increased risk for adverse health, financial, and social outcomes in adulthood."
Given the life-long harms of childhood bullying, one trend among North Carolina public schools is particularly alarming: As WRAL-TV notes, cyberbullying jumped 69 percent during the 2011-2012 school year, according to the state's Department of Public Instruction. Physical bullying stayed nearly stagnant.
Some North Carolina schools already have ways students can take action to end bullying: Schools in Carteret, Craven, and Pamlico counties let students report bullying on their websites, WNC-TV reports.