“What can you do," people say, "bullying has been going on forever. Kids are mean." Or "she just made a bad joke." "He didn't mean to hurt anyone." "It was just a one-time thing." "Bullying may be wrong. But it really isn't an educational issue." At the heart of this minimization of bullying, is a core belief that bullying is an elusive concept that can't really be defined.
Every one of those myths and excuses I've just cited is flat-out wrong. Bullying is definable. It has a common definition and a legal definition in many states. Good prevention programs work to reduce bullying. And bullying is very much an education priority that goes to the heart of school performance and school culture.
- Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education, August 2010 (the full speech is available online)
- 160,000 kids stay home from school each day to avoid being bullied.
- Bullying erodes self-esteem, negatively impacting learning at school.
What should educators do when bullying occurs?
Over half, about 56 percent, of all students have witnessed bullying take place at school. Some reports estimate that 15 percent of all students who don’t show up for school are absent out of fear of being bullied while at school and that about one out of every 10 student drops out or changes schools because of repeated bullying.
As an educator, it is important that you know the signs of bullying and react appropriately when you observe bullying or instances of bullying are reported to you. Below are five tips from www.stopbullying.gov:
Establish a culture of inclusion and respect that welcomes all students Monitor bullying "hot spots" in and around the building. Set a tone of respect in the classroom.
Develop rules with students so they set their own climate of respect and responsibility, and reinforce the rules by making expectations clear and keeping requests simple, direct and specific.
Intervene immediately. It’s OK to get another adult to help. Don’t talk to the kids involved together, only separately, and don’t make the kids involved apologize or patch up relations on the spot.
Get the facts, keep all the children involved separate, listen without blaming and don’t call the act "bullying" while you are trying to understand what happened.
All kids involved in bullying—whether they are bullied, bully others, or see bullying—can be affected. It is important to support all kids involved to make sure the bullying doesn’t continue and effects can be minimized.
- Tip Sheet for Parents & Educators: What actually helps in bullying situations?
- Bullying Prevention and Intervention Tips for Schools
- Signs a Child is a Bully or a Victim
- Ten Things Students Wish Teachers Knew about Name-Calling and Bullying
- Misdirections in Bullying Prevention and Intervention
- Considerations When Protected Groups are Victims
- ADL’s Toolkit for Responding to Cyberhate
What types of legal duties do schools have to respond to and prevent bullying?
Schools have a duty to protect students. As stated by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals:
"[s]tudent-on-student bullying is a 'major concern' in schools across the country and can cause victims to become depressed and anxious, to be afraid to go to school, and to have thoughts of suicide...school administrators must be able to prevent and punish harassment and bullying in order to provide a safe school environment conducive to learning."
Kowalski v. Berkeley County Schools, 652 F.3d 565, 572 (4th Cir. 2011) (emphasis added).
In responding to and preventing bullying, educators must ensure compliance with state laws. Educators should be familiar with all relevant state laws.
State laws vary greatly. Some are criminal in nature, some are not. Some require educational agencies to adopt policies and some even include model policies. For example:
- New Jersey's Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act not only requires district to adopt such policies, it actually identifies the twelve components that such policies must include. See N.J. Rev. Stat. § 18A:37-15.
- South Dakota's anti-bullying law includes a model bullying policy that local school districts are required to follow until they have adopted their own policies. See S.D. Codified Laws §§ 13-32-14, et seq.
- Bullying Policies & Laws by State
- U.S. Dept. of Education’s Analysis of State Laws & Bullying Policies
- Chart from the NSBA re: State Law Requirements for Model Policies in Schools
- An Overview of State Anti-Bullying Legislation & Other Related Laws
- Sexting Laws by State
Federal Laws: Bullying may trigger legal responsibilities for schools under certain civil rights laws prohibiting discrimination and harassment based on race, color, gender, national origin, sex, disability, and religion. A school that fails to respond appropriately to harassment of students based on a protected class may be violating one or more civil rights laws enforced by the Department of Education and the Department of Justice, including:
- Title IV and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
- Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972
- Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
- Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act
- Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
Dear Colleague Letter (Oct. 26, 2010) – Clarifies the relationship between bullying and discriminatory harassment under the civil rights laws enforced by the Department of Education’s (ED) Office for Civil Rights(OCR).
What can schools do to prevent bullying?
Schools must be proactive and take steps to eliminate bullying. There are numerous prevention techniques and strategies that have been proven to be effective. However, not every technique or strategy will be appropriate for every school.
Each school is different and, even within a school, different areas and grade levels can have different climates. It is important to first fully assess your school’s climate to determine where problems areas exist.
- General Information about Developing an Assessment from stopbullying.gov
- Information about National School Safety Center’s Safety Site Assessment Services
- Measuring Bullying Victimization, Perpetration, and Bystander Experiences: A Compendium of Assessment Tools
Implementation of Policies & Intervention Strategies:
"Though laws are only a part of the cure for bullying, the adoption, publication, and enforcement of a clear and effective anti-bullying policy sends a message that all incidents of bullying must be addressed immediately and effectively, and that such behavior will not be tolerated. State laws, and their related district- and school-level policies, cannot work in isolation, however. When responding to bullying incidents, schools and districts should remember that maintenance of a safe and equitable learning environment for all students, including both victims and perpetrators of bullying, often requires a more comprehensive approach.”
– Arne Duncan, Secretary, U.S. Dept. of Ed., Dear Colleague Letter (12/16/10)
A great place to start is with the Youth Voice Research Project, the first known large-scale research project that solicited students’ perceptions about strategy effectiveness to reduce peer mistreatment in schools.
- Nat. Crime Prevention Council’s Strategies
- Implementing Bullying Prevention Programs in Schools: A How-To Guide
- Guide on Setting Policies & Rules from stopbullying.gov
- Facebook for Educators Guide
- Facebook for School Counselors Guide
Education of School Personnel:
- ADL’s Bullying & Cyberbullying Workshops
- What You Must Know to Help Combat Youth Bullying, Meanness, and Cruelty
- Learn the Signs of Bullying
- Common Sense Media’s Professional Development Resources
- School Safety Leadership Training by the Nat’l School Safety Center
- Nat’l Crime Prevention Council’s School Safety & Security Toolkit
- Webinar: Cyber Bullying Hurts: How to Prevent & Respond
- Webinar: No Place for Bullying: Leadership for Schools that Care for Every Student
Education of Students:
An integral step in preventing bullying is educating students. Schools should include bullying awareness and tolerance lessons in the curricula in combination with other efforts, such as improving school climate and disciplinary practices.
The following sites offer lesson plans and curriculum-based toolkits:
- Common Sense Media’s Digital Literacy and Citizenship Curriculum
- Classroom Toolkits & Lesson Plans from PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center
- Teaching Tolerance Classroom Resources
- Cyberbullying Lesson Plans for Various Grade Levels from the ADL
Involve students in the effort!