LEBANON, Tenn. — A high school student who posted an anti-bullying video attacking her school’s administration was given a two-day suspension, but the school is saying it had nothing to do with her video’s message.
Emily Gipson is a student at Lebanon High School in Lebanon, Tennessee. On January 22, she posted a YouTube video of her performing a free-verse poem about bullying and suicide at her school.
“Welcome to Lebanon High School, where smiles are fake and suicide prevention is something to laugh at,” she begins.
In the days since it was posted, Gipson’s video has racked up more than 700,000 views — and has caused serious controversy at her high school.
Gipson was given a two-day suspension for the video, a punishment some people attributed to her strong words against the school’s handling of bullying.
However, the school says it was a much simpler reason.
Why she was suspended
Jennifer Johnson, the spokeswoman for Wilson County Schools, posted a lengthy statement on the schools’ Facebook page defending the school’s decision.
“While it’s been widely circulated that Emily was punished for inciting violence with her video, this is patently false,” wrote Johnson, a former news anchor.
“No such violation even exists in our student handbook. Three weeks ago, Emily asked a coach if she could use his classroom as a backdrop for a school project. When the video surfaced, weeks later, on YouTube… the coach was mortified by the nature of her message.”
“The video,” she wrote, “was shot after school hours, long after an announcement was made over the PA system indicating that students needed to be out of the building.”
Why she made the video
One theme of Gipson’s video is the connection between bullying and suicide.
In October, a student at the school took her life, prompting a school meeting to address bullying. The girl was Gipson’s friend, and the suicide led Gipson to pen the poem that eventually ended up in her viral video.
Johnson, the spokeswoman, said no bullying was discovered or reported by either Gipson or the friend.
“While students have said repeatedly that the student was bullied, there’s no evidence whatsoever to support that,” she wrote. “The school had never received any bullying complaints from, or about, this student. At a community meeting, the student’s parents openly admitted that they were not aware of any bullying.”
Gipson posted a follow-up to her original video, titled, “Have I Made a Difference Yet?”
“Never did I know that it would get this many views,” she says of her original video. “Through it getting this big, I have learned a lesson. This is not my school, this is everyone’s school. This is a national problem.”
She then recites a poem reflecting on “the bad choices that save lives” and asking for compassion for people who are made to feel “you’re not quite good enough.”