TODAY   |  June 21, 2012

Bullied bus monitor: Teasing ‘made me feel terrible’

Three separate videos totaling 14 minutes taken during a school bus ride just outside Rochester, N.Y., show middle schoolers taunting a bus monitor until she cries, prompting questions about kids and civility. NBC’s Craig Melvin reports, and bus monitor Karen Klein talks with TODAY’s Matt Lauer about the cruel harassment.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> we are back at 8:09 with a video we think it's important for you to watch, a group of middle schoolers cruelly taunting the bus monitor. more than a million people have seen it on line. we'll speak to karen klein in a minute. first we go to craig in rochester .

>> reporter: good morning to you. karen klein is in her late 60s, is hard of hearing. she's worked with kids much of her life. the video showing what some of those kids subjected her to on that school bus . those videos have been viewed more than a million times. and it's got a lot of folks talking and asking some questions, some serious questions about kids and civility.

>> [ bleep ].

>> reporter: watching these videos makes you cringe and wince. most parents would never expect their children to act like this on their way to school. this community just outside rochester is reeling from three separate videos that show a group of middle school students mercilessly taunting a bus monitor. at one point they made the 64-year-old cry.

>> i was trying to just ignore them, hoping they would go away and it doesn't work. trust me, they didn't go away.

>> reporter: karen klein sat and endured it. now the grandmother of eight is still trying to come to terms with what happened.

>> it's like it wasn't me, you know? it had to be somebody else, not me. i can't believe it happened.

>> reporter: at in news conference wednesday, school officials promised punishment.

>> we can say that students found to be involved will face strong disciplinary action.

>> reporter: the videos have gone viral and they've also struck a cord with many concerned about how today's children behave and what it means for society.

>> you're powerless watching this. you want to be there to say something and you can't.

>> it's upsetting this goes on in the world today.

>> reporter: experts say parents may be reaping what they sew.

>> i think what's wrong with kids today are what's wrong with adults today. we're not setting the importance of cultural rules, that you treat each other with decency and respect, that cruelty is wrong and punishable.

>> reporter: there's been talk of criminal charges but klein doesn't want that. instead she'd prefer is serve as a simple lesson.

>> i do hope the parents see this, not just kids and they can talk to their kids and tell them to be a little more respectful.

>> reporter: both the police and school district are going to continue their investigation. no word on when and if charges will be filed. meanwhile there's been an outpouring of support for karen klein . one web site alone has raised more than $115,000 to send her on a dream vacation and help with retirement. matt?

>> craig melvin, thank you very much. karen klein is at home in rochester , new york and jennifer hartstein, a parent and adolescent therapist is with me in the studio. good morning to both of you.

>> good morning.

>> good morning.

>> karen , i saw this video for the first time this morning and it's one of the most upsetting and depressing things that i have seen in a very long time. the way these children treat you on that bus. and i use the word "children," there are a lot of other things i would like to call them. have any of them come forward to apologize to you?

>> i don't know -- i don't know what to say. i don't -- i want the boys punished but i don't know how. it made me feel really terrible, but i will get over it. i've gotten over everything else.

>> karen , did you have a longstanding, hostile relationship with these children or was this more of an isolated incident?

>> there were more times than i thought that they were picking on me. they'd mock out my hair, they'd mock out because i wore hearing aids . they just could be really nasty.

>> i was watching this and i was amazed at your self-restraint, the fact that you did not jump up and yell and talk back to them, that you sat there for this amount of time. how did you manage to do that? a lot of will power . because i'm not usually that calm. just ask my kid.

>> i just want to explain, karen , to our viewers that you were a bus driver for a long time. you've been a monitor on the school bus for i think about three years. and i'm not going to say how much they pay you but it's not a lot of money and you do it because you want to make sure kid are safe to and from school. i'll tell you what i think about them now, i think they're narrow minded monsters and i think their kids should be ashamed of them. what would you like to say to those parents?

>> i'm sorry that your sons acted the way they did. i'm sure they don't act that way at home but you never know what they're going to do when they're out of the house. they should have been taught to respect their elders. no matter who it is.

>> karen , there has been an enormous amount of support for you after this video went public. there's been an outpouring of support and people have even raised money for you. i believe it's about $100,000 so that you can go off and take a nice vacation. how do you feel about the reaction to this?

>> i am amazed. i'm so amazed. some of the nicest -- i've got i don't know the nicest letters, e-mails, facebook messages. and it's like, wow, there's a whole world out there that i didn't know. it's just really awesome.

>> i don't know you. i'd love to meet you. i'd love to have you here in the studio one day, but as a parent let me apologize for those children because what they did was despicable and i thank you so much for talking to me today.

>> you're welcome.

>> jennifer, this is just bullying, plain and simple.

>> it is plain and simple bullying and it's bullying in a way we don't generally think about it. it's elder bullying and it's not something we talk about. we don't talk about how kids talk to the adults in their lives. teachers face this in their classrooms with students all the time. we know on the buses this may happen. the problem as she pointed out is what's the policy in reverse. if she does say something back, she gets in trouble.

>> i would like nothing more than to saturday names of these kid on national television and give their addresses and let them see the kind of abuse that they dished out to this woman. ecan't do th i can't do this. how should the school handle this?

>> there is an investigation. there was an article that came out that said if she's feeling threatened, they can bring criminal charges against these kids.

>> i'm going to go home and show this video to my kid, the ones that are old enough to see it. it might be a teachable moment.

>> it absolutely is a teachable moment. we're talking about bullying, we're talking about let's get back to kindness, a kindness curriculum.