Bullied bus monitor launches nonprofit

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Karen Klein has retired and founded the Karen Klein Anti-Bullying Foundation. PHOTO : AP/Steven Senne

Curses. Taunts. Jabs. Jeers.

A student with a cellphone videotaped the brazen, brutal bullying of Greece Central School District bus monitor Karen Klein, 68, on the second to the last day of the 2011-12 school year in the upstate New York community.

One student told Klein, whose eldest son committed suicide 10 years ago, that she was without family because “they all killed themselves because they didn’t want to be near you.” Another poked at her and joked about her weight.

The video of the 10-minute assault went viral and led an international audience to show concern and care for Klein with cash donations in a campaign launched by Max Sidorov, a stranger moved by outrage at the kids’ cruelty.

The cyber Samaritans’ goal had been to raise enough money – about $5,000 – for the bus monitor to take a vacation. But with more than $700,000 collected, she could do a lot more than get away.

“We raised a lot more money than what I needed to go on vacation,” said Klein, adding that “32,000 people around the world raised $703,873 for my behalf. It has changed my life forever.”

So Klein – whose experience called attention to the fact that not all bullies’ targets are tweens and teens – decided to fund the Karen Klein Anti-Bullying Foundation.

Established as part of the Give Back Foundation, the foundation has four initiatives:

• Fund anti-bullying counseling in schools.

• Create an educational curriculum that will teach about bullying and what individuals can do to stop it.

• Support organizations bringing awareness to the anti-bullying movement.

• Develop new media assets that will help prevent bullying.

“The goal of the anti-bullying campaign is to help teach kids and teens about being kind, friendly and playing nicely with others,” Klein said. “Because of my own personal bullying story, I’ve now decided to become an advocate of change.”

The grandmother said she wants the foundation to provide resources for children and adults: “When the adult is being bullied, I don’t know who the heck they can talk to. That’s why I want to help.”

Surveys show that 70 percent of students at high schools and middle schools say they’ve been bullied.

That percentage is likely higher, since other surveys show that students are reluctant to report bullying.

Studies examining bullying of adults find that workplace bullying is three times as prevalent as illegal discrimination and at least 1,600 times as prevalent as workplace violence.

“Bullying can take place within the family, at work, in the neighborhood, at church, at the store,” said author and educator J. Richard Knapp, an expert on bullying. “The most reported incidents take place at work, but that does not mean that the incidents did not happen in the other places I mentioned – they just weren’t reported.”

The foundation “will be the gathering point for millions of people to support the anti-bullying movement,” Klein said. “Together, we will change the world.”

To promote the work, Klein is involved in the No Bully concert tour, which begins this fall in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and celebrates the slogan, “Be a buddy, not a bully.”

Meanwhile, in the Greece Central School District, students returned to class on Sept. 6 for a new year. The students who bullied Klein, however, are apart from their friends. Their punishment was a one-year suspension, 50 hours of community service and participation in an anti-bullying program.

As for Klein, she’s retired from the district but not from education.