“Students overwhelmingly report that teachers and other adults on the school grounds do not have any clue about how many actual incidents of physical and emotional violence and harassment occur in the course of a day.”
– Garbarino & deLara (2002, p. 35)
Bullying at school
School is where most bullying takes place. It’s also where most bullying originates from. So the fight against bullying starts and ends with the school. Yet many teachers and school staff remain largely unaware of the abuse that some of their pupils are experiencing during the school day.
School bullying often occurs right under the teacher’s nose or in close proximity to adults. (Sullovan, Cleary & Sullovan, 2004, p. 15) As Marlene Snyder, a Clemson University expert on bullying says, “some of it is so under the radar that without training, you can’t see what’s in front of you.” (Hampson, 2010, p. 1A) Yet what teachers are unaware of can hurt the progress of their students.
Bullying prevention is not just about eliminating painful experiences – it can have profound effects on the academic performance of students within the school. (See our section on the Academic Consequences of Bullying.) So it behooves school staffers to remain proactive in dealing with bullying in the school setting.
The information in this chapter is created specifically with teachers and other school personnel in mind. Parents looking for information on school bullying and prevention can find it throughout the other chapters of this book. Teachers should also peruse the other information throughout this book, which will give them a general understanding of bullying prevention that can be applied to the classroom. This is additional information which is specifically applicable to the school setting and designed to compliment our other materials. We hope you find it useful.
The School’s Responsibility In Bullying Prevention
Most states mandate that school districts prohibit bullying and harassment of pupils in their student codes of conduct. Districts are also generally required to address bullying in their ‘discipline management’ plans.
Aside from this, laws are often lacking or missing teeth to enforce them. Legislation that might require comprehensive anti-bullying programs, counseling to victims, or teacher training is generally lacking. Most schools are struggling to come up with the money to fund their teachers and textbooks, let alone find the money for new programs.
As for the task of preventing bullying, scapegoating the school ignores the fact that there are a multitude of factors that contribute to bullying, and the school is but one of them. Parents, television shows, and society at large each commit their own errors which fuel the bullying problem.
What a school’s responsibility is in addressing and preventing bullying
- Schools do have the responsibility to do a thorough investigation whenever a complaint is brought before them.
- They do have the responsibility to do all they can to create a safe and nurturing learning environment for students.
- They are required to act when they witness crimes or the abuse of students.
School districts that violate the mandate to protect every student’s safety are in jeopardy of losing a portion of the federal funds they receive under Title IX, an amendment to the 1972 Education Act. Of course, the process of proving in court that a single school – let alone an entire school district – has acted irresponsibly and failed to protect student safety is a tall mountain to climb. No school has ever lost funding or been penalized in such a way for failing to act in a bullying case. Nor would this be an advisable approach: Punishing students by taking away school funding is not going to help the bullying problem one bit.
Being realistic about what schools can do to prevent bullying
When tragedy strikes in the form of a bullycide or parents become fed up with bullying in schools, they generally look for a patsy to blame and the school makes a perfect scapegoat. Yet Edward Boiselle, a school board chairman in a district where a high profile bullycide occurred, believes many people have unreasonable expectations of what schools can do to prevent such tragedies. “We don’t have a magic bullet,” he states. (Hampson, 2010) To a large degree, he is right.
Schools can’t monitor a student’s extracurricular Internet activities, which would be an invasion of privacy. So they are powerless to do anything about cyberbullying. They can only enforce academic consequences for misconduct that occurs on school property. And they can only take punitive measures when they have proof of wrongdoing by a student. Since bullying tends to reside in the shadows and safely away from the gaze of administrators, this is seldom easy to come by.