Magazine article District Administration

Create an Anti-Bullying Program with Resources You Have: School Leaders Essentially Already Have What They Need to Keep Students Safe and Secure, but They Need to Define Their Approach to Decrease Bullying

Magazine article District Administration

Create an Anti-Bullying Program with Resources You Have: School Leaders Essentially Already Have What They Need to Keep Students Safe and Secure, but They Need to Define Their Approach to Decrease Bullying

Article excerpt

BULLYING HAS CAPTURED the news headlines and the attention of legislators, educators and special interest advocates over the past three years at a greater rate. High-profile teen suicides have raised questions about the role bullying may have played in student deaths. States have enacted new anti-bullying laws and parents are turning more often to principals to resolve bullying incidents occurring in school and in cyberspace.

School administrators and safety officials agree that bullying is a serious issue worthy of reasonable attention, awareness and action. Anti-bullying strategies should be one component of a comprehensive and balanced approach to school safety. Dealing with lower-level aggression and behaviors constituting bullying early on can prevent bigger safety problems down the road.

But in a climate driven by emotion, heightened media coverage and the politicization of bullying, how can school leaders genuinely address bullying without overreacting and wasting limited dollars and time?

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Recognize the Politics

School leaders must recognize the politics behind the recent drive for new state and federal anti-bullying laws. Special interest groups, gay rights and civil rights advocates in particular, have been aggressively lobbying for new bullying laws that enumerate the phrases "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to create a new protected class for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. Meanwhile, Christian Conservative groups and a number of legislators have opposed such laws as violations of their religious beliefs and rights.

The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights issued a 2010 "Dear Colleagues" letter to school administrators advising them of the interpretation of federal civil rights education laws to apply to harassment and bullying. The federal Education and Justice Departments have initiated various investigations and litigation against school districts. Although the National School Boards Association challenged the Education Department's interpretation of the federal law as being questionable and overly expansive, the Obama Administration has held firm in its position.

Efforts are also under way to enact a federal law on anti-bullying and anti-discrimination of LGBT students. These bills, which are Democrat-driven, are unlikely to be passed into law given the current political composition of Congress, where the Democrats control the Senate and the Republicans control the House of Representatives. But political pressures continue behind the scenes to get language enacted into the forthcoming reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

At the state level, many legislators have championed anti-bullying laws and leveraged their efforts for heightened publicity and political advantages. Only a handful of states do not have some type of bullying law on the books, according to the Education Commission of the States. While the language and requirements of state laws vary, some state laws, such as New Jersey's new anti-bullying law, have been characterized by school administrator groups and school safety professionals as being highly prescriptive and burdensome.

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School administrators need to be aware of these political dynamics, as they are increasingly resulting in new laws and outside requirements that are likely to create new data collection and reporting, professional development and other typically unfunded mandates. They must follow those laws and regulations which are enacted, and encourage their professional associations to advocate for changes or against laws that are inappropriate. Anecdotal information also suggests an increasing number of lawsuits challenging how school administrators and their staff manage bullying incidents, so these laws do have serious implications.

Understand Media, Emotions

The media has been quick to jump on stories related to bullying. …

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