A Polish Boy’s Struggle with Bullying

NEW YORK — At one time, immigrants dealt with becoming “more American,” but in today’s world it’s about celebrating “who you are” and “where you’re from.” So why did a Polish boy become a target in a long, and difficult struggle?

 Being taller than other students, heavier, having acne, a Polish accent, and being from Poland — Bartłomiej “Bart” Palosz was ostracized for being different. The 15-year-old Connecticut boy committed suicide after the first day of school and authorities are investigating whether a long history of bullying was the factor.

Friends remember Bart as a gentle giant — a friendly, quiet boy with a welcoming face who never had a harsh word for anyone. He was a kind soul, a gifted student, and was always ready and willing to help those in need.

Bart was proud of his Polish roots and Poland was one of the few places where he was truly happy. In addition to local schooling, he attended The Polish School in Port Chester, NeBART PALOSZw York and completed his Polish regional exam. Unlike his sister Beata, he never fully lost his native country’s accent.

In the days since his suicide, Bart’s family has described relentless bullying that had dogged him since he enrolled in the Greenwich public school district when he was in first grade. Physical and psychological torments were part of his daily life.

The boy who felt so alone had more than 400 people at his funeral — a Mass celebrated in English and Polish at The Holy Name of Jesus Church in Stamford, where he received his First Communion. The family has taken Bart’s body to be buried in Poland.

Palosz, a former Boy Scout, enjoyed playing video games and volunteered at a local library. He loved the outdoors, technology and politics. He also was an active social media user and his postings told the story of a troubled teen. When other Google+ users in his network assured him his difficulties would subside, he replied that he had been bullied at school every day for the last 10 years.

The Palosz family immigrated 11 years ago from Kalna, Poland – near Kraków. Anna, a homemaker, and Franciszek, who owns a carpentry business, settled their family in Stamford. Bart was enrolled in kindergarten and karate classes. After their house was robbed, they relocated to a rental home in the Byram section of Greenwich, where they thought their children would be safer and better educated. In Greenwich, Bart was bullied and belittled by his peers.

Police say Bart Palosz died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at his family’s home. The shotgun used in the suicide was family-owned and had been stored in a gun locker inside the home.

Questions remain whether school officials did enough to prevent the taunting and bullying that family, friends, students and officials say were the underlying causes for the teen to take his life. There were numerous occasions when his parents and sister Beata reached out to school administrators for help addressing Bart’s bullies. They wrote letters to guidance counselors. Exchanged emails with administrators. Set up meetings with teachers and principals. “I honestly do not think the school addressed the bullying. It could have saved him if they did,” Beata said.

Beata last saw her brother alive when he hugged her goodbye after dropping her off at her freshman dorm room six days earlier. Palosz had a close relationship with his sister, who graduated this year. They always ate lunch together at school because he had no one else to eat with; she was one of his allies – his protector.

From smashing a brand new cell phone on the floor, to bashing his head into a locker and pushing him into thorny bushes on a daily basis, the torture was unending – and Bart chose to stay silent. He tolerated the ridicule and hid under a happy disposition.

Students who witnessed the locker incident on the last day of eighth-grade, said a bully bashed the metal door into Bart’s head on purpose. His forehead was cut by the corner of a locker, sending him to the emergency room for stitches. School administrators called it an accident and refused to share surveillance video recorded by security cameras with the family. Who were they protecting in this affluent neighborhood? Or was it simply indifference?

In silence, Bart endured verbal attacks from peers who picked on him for his uncommonly tall, 6 -foot-3-inch stature, his Polish accent, his extra weight, and the pimples on his face.

A sad, isolated young man, Bart was quiet and did not defend himself. but it seemed his outlook had brightened. During the summer he lost weight, his acne started to clear up, and he even started hanging around with people who seemed like genuine friends. It wasn’t until police directed the family to Bart’s page on the social media site that they learned he had spent the summer grappling with frequent suicidal thoughts because of the intimidation.

“The simple observation that `kids can be cruel’ is not action, it is an excuse, an inequitable pardon for those whose actions lead us being here today and an excuse for not teaching our children well,” said Brian Raabe in Bart’s eulogy.

Bullying and suicide too often go hand-in-hand. The incident continues to be investigated by members of the Greenwich Police Detective Division.

— Staś Kmieć from news reports. Google photo.

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