Put Bullying Policies and Statutes in Writing
Written policies and legislation send a clear message that bullying prevention is an important priority
While presenting for groups of educators for state Departments of Education in South Dakota and Pennsylvania last week and this week, the topic of demonstrating the importance of school safety came up in both sessions in two very different regions of the country. Part of the discussion in each instance involved the need for school districts and state legislatures to send a clear message that certain aspects of safety are important by the implementation of policies by local schools and districts and laws by state legislatures.
One school of thought expressed by many educators, particularly at the school level is that if a school board doesn’t think a key safety concern is important enough to address by written policy, school employees will be more prone to fail to focus on the issue. Similarly, school districts have been much more likely to act to address school safety concerns when required to do so by legislative action.
For example, a number of states have passed bullying legislation after a student has committed suicide due to bullying. In my home state of Georgia, a child shot himself to death in his school because he was so badly bullied. Before our legislators could pass Georgia’s bullying law, another bullying death occurred in the same district that had failed to implement proper prevention measures. The second instance involved a homicide perpetrated by a bully who had repeatedly attacked other students and accidently injured his victim more than he intended, resulting in the victim’s death. A number of states have passed bullying laws that typically require local school officials to, among other things, define bullying by policy.
The leadership of the American Medical Association (AMA) realized a few years ago that bullying was a serious medical issue and used the AMA’s own mechanism to articulate this concern in writing to affect change among physicians. I now present bullying workshops at medical schools because far more doctors, nurses and other health care providers see the importance of this topic in relation to their work.
I have been astounded at how well these optional sessions have been attended. I’m been deeply impressed that so many physicians and nurses who begin their workday at 4 or 5 a.m. would spend an entire afternoon taking time from their busy schedules to learn about the topic. I doubt the session would even have been held let alone attended before the AMA took a firm stand by stating in writing that bullying was a medical issue.
The recently released research indicating a significant decline in school bullying in the United States indicates our schools and their community partners in medicine, mental health, youth service organizations such as the Boy Scouts of America, Boy’s and Girl’s Clubs of America and others are making progress in this arena. As evidence-based bullying programs emphasize the need for school officials to define bullying, these policies and statutes are one part of a proven means to reduce bullying in American schools. In rare but tragic incidents, students have been killing themselves and others in reaction to severe school bullying for more than 40 years.
Isn’t it time for every state and every school to demonstrate that bullying is a core issue by written proclamation?
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