What Can You Do To Stop School Bullying?
A pervasive problem that has been receiving a great deal of attention involves the increase in school violence. One type of school violence is referred to as bullying, which is defined as student on student harassment. Bullying includes one student’s physical and/or verbal abuse of another. One dynamic of bullying is that peers often watch without intervening in support of the student who is being targeted. Often bullying occurs during a long period of time with the victim remaining silent either because of social pressure, shame or grave concern about increased victimization. The problem is so pervasive in public schools that several incidents have resulted in student suicide and/or hospitalization. To make matters worse, students with disabilities have historically been targeted by bullies and subjected to teasing, harassment, and other forms of victimization.
Unfortunately, the experience can be so unpleasant that the victim can no longer tolerate the abuse. Such was the case in 2005 when Jeffrey Johnston committed suicide after becoming the victim of bullying by a classmate. For three years, Jeffrey’s mother worked to memorialize the memory of her son and to protect other children from bullying by advocating for the passage of a law to discourage bullying. In 2008, the State of Florida passed legislation requiring schools to protect children from harassment and bullying including cyber bullying in K to 12 public schools. Public schools in the State of Florida are now required to adopt policies prohibiting bullying and harassment and requiring schools to report all such instances. Schools must notify both the parents of the bully and the parents of the victim. School districts must involve students, parents, teachers, administrators, volunteers, community leaders and law enforcement agencies in the development of a school-based policy. The policy must be implemented throughout the school year and integrated within the school’s curriculum, discipline procedures and other violence prevention efforts.
For parents of students with disabilities, they need to become proactive about what is happening within the school environment. All schools would benefit from having policies and procedures about student bullying and harassment. Parents should access information on these policies by looking either on the school’s web site or within the student handbook. Parents need to read the policies and procedures so that they understand what safeguards have been put in place to protect children. It is also important to discuss this issue at PTA meetings not only to express any individual concerns but also to determine if other parents are aware of incidents occurring in schools. Interestingly, other states are beginning to take more notice of bullying in schools. The New York State Education Department documents incidents of violence and reports those incidents either within a school report card or within a document that is submitted to the Department. Parents who are interested in this information can obtain them by means of a Freedom of Information Request (FOIL Request). Parents can also speak to their school administrator if they have any questions about their school’s policies and procedures.
Parents also need to speak directly to their children about bullying to provide not only information but assurances of parental support. If parents have any suspicions, they need to mobilize immediately to meet with school officials. With regard to students with disabilities, many of our children may not be able to explain their feelings, thoughts and fears. Parents often indicate that their children are not taken seriously because of their disabilities and their inabilities to express themselves. In such cases, it is important for parents to be strong advocates and a voice for their child.
So, make sure your school has a plan of action when dealing with bullying. A key ingredient is making the situation public. Keeping it secret can make the victim feel as though they are helpless and alone.