One of the worst epidemics facing schools today is bullying.
Of course, it's nothing new.
Most children say they've experienced bullying at some point while inside or around school, maybe before class, or after class or at recess or lunch, or in the hallways.
In a given year, nearly a third of all students aged 12 to 18 reported having been bullied, some almost daily, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
An amazing 90 percent of elementary students reported being bullied.
Locally, we don't need statistics to tell us about bullying.
In 1992, bullying led to the hallway stabbing death of a freshman at Tamaqua Area High School.
Despite zero-tolerance policies widely adopted since then, we still haven't found a solution.
In fact, it just happened again in our state. On April 9, Alex Hribal, described as a "normal 16-year-old," rampaged the halls of Franklin Regional High School, Murrysville, wielding two kitchen knives. He stabbed and slashed close to two dozen innocent victims, including 21 fellow students.
What stands out about the perpetrator is that nothing stands out about the perpetrator.
Everything about the boy is all-American.
Hribal lives in a Leave-It-To-Beaver suburban neighborhood and his father is a banker.
The FBI is trying to figure out what happened. Even Hribal himself, in custody, is trying to figure out what happened. Authorities are saying bullying was a factor. Bullying makes people snap.
But when it comes to bullying, identifying the problem provides no promise of resolution. There continues to be no easy answer to bullying in our schools. And many folks don't realize that bullying can originate from faculty and administration as well as students.
Forty-five years ago, I and others witnessed and experienced bullying from both sources. In fact, verbal and physical bullying by teachers and students was so commonplace it seemed acceptable. It appeared to be a normal component of the educational process, similar to college frat hazing.
We were products of the 1960s. Back then folks weren't vigilant about bullying. None of us dared report a "bad teacher" or a student bully. We weren't cry babies. We didn't snitch. Instead, we put up with it. In doing so, we were enablers, stupid and naive. Shame on us. Maybe our complacency is partly responsible for the present epidemic.
The fatal Tamaqua stabbing 22 years ago proved that the halls of our local schools are still hostile and volatile.
The additional Pennsylvania stabbings two weeks ago reinforce that reality.
School bullying is a matter of life and death and must be stopped.
Education takes a back seat when a student is afraid to enter school halls, or is frightened to take part in a class led by an abusive teacher.
Bullying must be taken seriously and reported promptly.
If you're a parent or student with knowledge of bullying, please do something about it. Don't be an enabler like we were in the 1960s and '70s. We failed. But today's society is smarter and you have an opportunity to succeed. If you feel your complaints aren't being taken seriously at the school level, go to local police.
Don't be quiet about it. Tell as many others as you can.
Bullying isn't a normal, healthy part of school culture. And if it is, it's a sign telling us that our schools are failing in their most basic responsibility.
In its most benign form, bullying causes immeasurable distress and undermines the educational process.
At its most severe, it kills.
Be a hero. Report bullying whenever you see it.