Bullying in Schools Demands Urgent Response
Bullying is the all encompassing term that refers to verbal or physical threats intended to harass or intimidate another. In it’s most extreme form, bullying can have severe consequences.
Intimidation and harassment have become a priority for many educators following a spate of high profile cases in which extreme taunting led to suicides. The issue is so critical that measures to address it are occurring at the individual school level, through state legislation and a federal call to action. Moves to combat the problem run the gamut from traditional–such as official written policies, to the more creative–including educational videos made and shared between peers.
In March, the U.S. Department of Education hosted with several other agencies the first federally-sponsored conference on anti-bullying. One aim of the conference was to change the prevailing attitude that bullying was just a natural part of life or that “kids will be kids.” President Obama denounced this sentiment. “If there’s one goal of this conference, it’s to dispel the myth that bullying is just a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up. It’s not,” the President said. “Bullying can have destructive consequences for our young people. And it’s not something we have to accept. ”
This message from the federal level has not gone unheard at the state and local levels. States are taking action with programs that are both practical and creative.
The Boston Globe reports on an innovative educational project that teaches acceptance through dance. “Accept me” is a production with 60 dancers aged 6 to 18. The older students were instrumental in researching the bullying issue and helping to choreograph a production that tells the story of bullying—including an incident which led to suicide. For some, it has taken an activity which is often a catalyst for being bullied and turned it into a vehicle for communications, opening a dialogue on a hot-button issue.
Although behavior and disciplinary rules have been part of school policies for ages, there is renewed urgency to deal specifically with bullying.
Newly drafted or updated anti-bullying laws, such as those in Broward county, which served as a model for statewide legislation in Florida include an official policy, an investigative process with anonymous report forms and witness statements. It also includes teacher and parent trainings around this issue.
One area that has spurred this urgency is cyber-bullying, where students or staff can use technology and social networking to threaten or harass others. In Maine, where intimidation and harassment through email and cell phones has become a significant problem, there is new legislation under consideration to combat cyber-bullying. The legislation, likely to be combined from two bills would focus on the prevention of bullying through electronic devices. If passed, the bill would make bullying a civil violation and require that school boards adopt policies on cyber bullying and include a process to report offensive behavior to authorities.
This issue of bullying will continue to be critical because it goes to the heart of education and impacts students’ ability to learn in a safe and supportive environment.