Thursday, March 15, 2012


    The issue of bullying continues to plague schools. When I attended a NYS School Boards conference, Barbara Coloroso, lecturer and author, spoke on this topic. Her book, the bully, the bullied, and the bystander, is excellent and her presentation was the talk of the conference with standing room only.
    Coloroso noted that kids often don't report bullying because, among other reasons, they are ashamed and because they might believe that adults are part of the lie [that bullying is just part of growing up] and because some adults are bullies, too.
    Due to the 2010 NYS anti-bullying law known as the Dignity for all Students Act, schools in the state now have to have anti-bullying policies "to foster civility in public schools and to prevent and prohibit conduct which is inconsistent with a school's educational mission."  This law requires schools to report "material incidents of discrimination and harassment on school grounds or at school functions" to the Commissioner on at least an annual basis. It requires instruction in civility, citizenship, and character education. 
    The New York State School Boards Association has provided schools with a sample anti-bullying policy (0115).  This can be viewed on the NYSSBA website. This sample policy provides language prohibiting all forms of discrimination, such as harassment, hazing, intimidation, and bullying. Student bullying or harassment that occurs off school grounds (like cyberbullying) may be under the auspices of the school to handle if such actions materially interfere with the operation of the school.
   As the PCSD crafts its anti-bullying policy, I realize that it will be fairly easy to write a good policy. What will be difficult will be creating a climate where students and employees are informed about bullying behaviors (by students and adults) and know what to do about them. This will take time and effort. Additionally, administrators will have to make the issue a priority. Giving bullies a slap on the wrist  will resound with all. They will know that the harassment and bullying are not being taken seriously. Barbara Coloroso said that the "boys will be boys" excuse is a lie. "We taught them this" and, we must unteach it. I don't mean to imply that bullying is the exclusive domain of males - female bullying is just as big a problem.
    Adult bullying is often overlooked. There can be teacher-to-teacher bullying, administrator-to-teacher bullying (and its reverse), and teacher-to-student bullying. The last one is particularly disturbing because students are often so ill-equipped to stand up for themselves. According to Alan McEvoy, PhD, " is an abuse of power that tends to be chronic and often is expressed in a public manner. It is a form of humiliation that generates attention while it degrades a student in front of others." Fortunately, most teachers do not bully students but when it occurs, administration must take action to help the teacher and the students.
   I hope the PCSD ends up with a paradigm shift and a substantive commitment to addressing the issue of bullying/harassment. A well-thought-out and written policy is nothing if it is not enforced. Change will only occur when there is accountability for bad behavior. And in some cases, it is criminal behavior. 


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