Sunday, December 16, 2007

What can Schools Do About Bullying?

Schools can do much to reduce bullying. Indiana University can help with identification and intervention resources. So does the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence.

Resources are available. Schools must use them.

Discipline and punishment are not the answer. Schools must be proactive.

Schools act in loco parentis - in the place of parents. They are negligent when they ignore bullying.

When schools are negligent, victims can sue for damages.

To prove a case for negligence, a parent must show:

  • The school had a legal duty to protect the child from bullying
  • The school failed its duty, and
  • The school's failure to do its duty was the direct cause of damage or injury to the child.

Laws and policies do not prevent bullying. Schools that react do not prevent bullying. “Safe” schools do not prevent bullying. Only proactive, responsive schools can prevent tragedy from happening.

How can I tell how good my State's anti-bullying laws are?

The Bully Police assigns grades to States. Indiana gets a B+ for its anti-bullying laws a B+.

Does that mean bullying does not happen here? Of course not. Every day, children are bullied in Indiana schools.,

Must Schools have Anti-Bullying Policies?

Check your State laws to see whether it protects your child from bullying.

Indiana schools must have policies against bullying. Yet, some schools do not identify bullying. They use the term, “harassment.” Tippecanoe School Corporation addresses harassment in policy number 5517. West Lafayette Junior-Senior High School handbook prohibits “behavior that does physical or psychological harm to another person or urging of other students to engage in conduct.” The handbook identifies such behavior as “coercion, harassment, bullying, hazing, or other comparable conduct.” Lafayette School Corporation’s elementary school handbook has similar language.

By reducing “bullying” to “harassment,” schools ignore the problem. In reality, when children complain, schools often say, “It’s just teasing. You must learn to deal with it.” We must demand that schools stop treating bullying as a rite of passage, a part of growing up. Bullying is a serious problem.

Another problem with school policies is that victims cannot understand them nor do they know their rights to a formal complaint.

The anti-bullying complaint process must be simple. A child cannot be expected to understand Klondike Elementary School’s policy:

Harassment of a student(s) by other students or any member of the staff is incompatible with a physically and psychologically safe environment in which to learn. Harassment shall include any speech or action that creates a hostile or offensive learning environment. The Superintendent will ensure that the Student Code of Conduct contains language prohibiting any form of sexual harassment and any use of racial, religious, or ethnic verbal or physical harassment. Administrative guidelines will provide a means for a student to report harassment from a student, staff member or school visitor, to avoid embarrassment to the student and protect the confidentiality of the student when possible.

The Bully Police, a watchdog organization advocating for bullied children, recommends that policies cover certain points. Among other things, policies should:

· Use the word “bullying” and specifically prohibit it
· Not address it as a school safety issue (a reaction to Columbine-like incidents)
· Define “bullying.”
· Protect against reprisal or retaliation.
· Provide accountability.

How common is school bullying?

Bullying is so prevalent that states are passing anti-bullying laws. Indiana did so in 2005. Indiana Code 20-33-8 defines bullying as,

“overt, repeated acts or gestures, including

(1) verbal or written communications transmitted;

(2) physical acts committed; or
(3) any other behaviors committed;

by a student or group of students against another student with the intent to harass, ridicule, humiliate, intimidate, or harm the other student.

Is bullying a crime?

Check your State's laws on bullying.

Bullying may be a crime in Indiana. Indiana law says, “A person who intentionally causes another human being, by force, duress, or deception, to commit suicide commits causing suicide, a Class B felony.” Victims may also sue bullies for damages under civil procedures.

What are the consequences of bullying?

Bullying is costly with serious, long lasting consequences. Victims have high levels of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. Sometimes they carry through with those thoughts.

Up to 15% of bullied children require intervention and support.

Reactions to bullying can be deadly. See also:

In 2002, the Secret Services reported that nearly 75% of attackers in school shootings reported being bullied.

Reflecting on the numbers, one wonders why there are not more school shootings.

What is "cyberbullying?"

Modern technology takes bullying to a higher level. Bullies now use the internet and cell phones. The National Crime Prevention Council identifies cyberbullying as actions where the bully:

  • Tricks a victim by pretending to be someone else
  • Spreads lies and rumors
  • Tricks victims into revealing personal information
  • Sends or forwards mean text messages
  • Posts pictures of victims without their consent

Where does bullying occur?

Most bullying occurs when adults are not vigilant. Playgrounds and school hallways are common places. The American Psychological Association recommends that schools have adequate adult supervision during at-risk activities. Some schools are so large they cannot adequately monitor student behavior.

Who gets bullied in schools?

Any student can be a victim of a bully.

Stanford University Medical Center research finds that as many as 90% of elementary age students are victims of bullying.

In middle school and high school, bullies tease and socially isolate victims. They threaten them, use physical violence, harass and publicly intimidate them. Bullies destroy the personal property of victims.

When does "teasing" become "bullying?"

What is “bullying?” When does teasing rise to that level? The U.S. Justice Department says that bullying “involves a real or perceived imbalance of power, with the more powerful child or group attacking those who are less powerful.” Bullies use physical, verbal, and psychological means to terrorize their victims.

What is "teasing?"

Most of us remember teasing. As a child, some of us were “teasers.” Others regret that we did nothing to stop the teasing. Our behavior was unacceptable then. It continues to be so today.

“Kids can be cruel. Kids tease.” These are justifications and excuses not reasons.
Teasing is not harmless. It is a form of bullying, pure and simple.

Bullies target kids who look or talk different or who do not “fit in.” Riley Children’s Hospital statistics find that 61.6% of victims are bullied because of their speech or looks. Up to 7% of eighth grade students stay home because of bullies.