Draft anti-bullying policy released in Phoebe Prince’s school district
The Massachusetts school district where a bullied 15-year-old, Phoebe Prince, attended school before she committed suicide has unveiled a draft anti-bullying policy that details measures that should be taken to prevent, or intervene in, a bad situation.
The most important part requires the school district to teach students how to deal with the issue in the classroom, and includes provisions to educate parents and guardians about addressing it at home.
In the wake of the teenager's death, the subject of bullying is getting new academic attention. It was announced today that the University of Buffalo Graduate School of Education will become the site of a national center for the prevention of bullying, abuse and school violence.
"We need to change the way people look at this problem to reflect the message that bullying is child abuse by children," said Jean M. Alberti, who donated money for the center. "No one I've ever heard or read about talks about bullying in that language. Until we change the language, we can't change people's understanding of the problem."
The new draft anti-bullying policy for the South Hadley school district was drawn up by a task force appointed in February after the teenager hanged herself. Prosecutors said she took her life after being bullied by other students, nine of whom have been criminally charged in her death.
According to the Springfield Republican, the draft policy:
--Defines bullying as severe or repeated use by one or more students of written, verbal or electronic communication, or a physical act or gesture or exclusion directed at another student.
--Has at least one of the following effects: Causes physical or emotional harm, creates a hostile environment, infringes on the person’s rights or disrupts the school.
--Details measures to intervene or prevent bullying, including the establishment of a process for students and staff to report bullying, anonymously, if necessary.
--Recommends a range of disciplinary actions
--Explains strategies for protecting students and notifying parents or guardians of bullying.
--Requires that law enforcement be notified in cases where criminal charges may be pursued.
The draft is likely to change somewhat before it becomes permanent. Some task force members criticized it, mostly on the grounds that the disciplinary measures may not be tough enough.
But disciplinary measures are not really at the heart of any anti-bullying policy.
In fact, more than 40 states already have some sort of law that makes bullying illegal. Yet the harassment of kids by their classmates remains common. According to the latest U.S. government statistics, about one-third of students aged 12-18 say they are bullied in some fashion.
Some states are now moving to strengthen their anti-bullying laws, but the fact is that unless everybody in every school in the country learns how to recognize and deal with these situations, bullying won’t stop.
Most schools don’t have anti-bullying programs. Some that have them don’t have the ones known to be most effective.
South Hadley has budgeted $20,000 to bring anti-bullying instruction into its schools, though it isn’t yet known what the program will be.
Researchers say that the only kind of anti-bullying program with any hope of reducing such behavior involves the entire school community, such as The Olweus Program (pronounced Ol-VEY-us) for elementary, junior high and middle schools. (You can find reports that analyze different bullying programs here.)
That means that every adult in the school, from the principal to the janitor, must be trained in how to recognize bullying and what actions to take to stop it. Kids need to learn that being a bystander is not acceptable, and then how to safely intervene, even if it means getting help from an adult in a bad situation. One school-wide assembly to discuss bullying doesn’t work. Schools that are serious about this kind of program often make time once a week for the topic to be discussed in every classroom.
Education and training are the keys. It’s both sad and infuriating that it takes a tragedy to force adults to pay attention to what is harming so many kids.
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| April 27, 2010; 3:30 PM ET
Categories: Bullying | Tags: Phoebe P, Phoebe Prince, South Hadley schools, bullying
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