Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students' Perspectives on Bullying and School Climate

By Weiner, Mary T.; Day, Stefanie J. et al. | American Annals of the Deaf, Summer 2013 | Go to article overview

Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students' Perspectives on Bullying and School Climate


Weiner, Mary T., Day, Stefanie J., Galvan, Dennis, American Annals of the Deaf


STUDENT PERSPECTIVES reflect school climate. The study examined perspectives among deaf and hard of hearing students in residential and large day schools regarding bullying, and compared these perspectives with those of a national database of hearing students. The participants were 812 deaf and hard of hearing students in 11 U.S. schools. Data were derived from the Olweus Bullying Questionnaire (Olweus, 2007b), a standardized self-reported survey with multiple-choice questions focusing on different aspects of bullying problems. Significant bullying problems were found in deaf school programs. It appears that deaf and hard of hearing students experience bullying at rates 2-3 times higher than those reported by hearing students. Deaf and hard of hearing students reported that school personnel intervened less often when bullying occurred than was reported in the hearing sample. Results indicate the need for school climate improvement for all students, regardless of hearing status.

Keywords: bullying, deaf residential and day schools, school climate, Olweus Bullying Questionnaire, student perspectives, deaf and hard of hearing students, hearing students, teacher intervention

Bullying has been defined as the repeated and intentional targeting of harm to a person who has less power or has difficulty defending himself or herself (Olweus et al., 2007). American society has long been aware of bullying in schools, but has only recently begun to address it as a public health crisis requiring intervention. Side effects of bullying include reduced academic achievement and aspirations, increased anxiety, low self-esteem, depression, suicide, feelings of alienation, absenteeism, and poor physical health. Students with disabilities are especially affected by the bullying phenomena (Rose, Espelage, & Monda-Amaya, 2009; U.S. Department of Education, 2010; Whitney, Smith, & Thompson, 1994; Young, Ne'eman, & Geiser, 2011). Because bullying affects not only bullies and its targets, but also teachers and nonbullied bystanders, it affects the health of the school community (Davis, 2007b).

Emmons defined school climate "as the quality of interactions among adults and students at school" (as cited in Mehta, 2011); it is considered a multidimensional construct involving complex inter- and intra-individual variables that affect the individual, family, peer, school, and community contexts. Swearer and Espelage (2004) suggested that the best way to understand bullying and its impact on the school climate is by conducting research that focuses on the social-ecological framework within which bullying occurs. However, such research would require a large-scale study beyond the purpose of the present study of school climate, which is limited to an examination and comparison of student perspectives on bullying.

Differences in educational background, degree of deafness, age at onset of deafness, family background, race, and the presence of other disabilities may create an increased incidence of bullying and victimization, with consequences for the school climate. Bullying happens when children are thrown together with others they would not ordinarily choose to spend time with, and is especially likely to occur when adults do not intervene appropriately (Davis, 2007b). Bullying in schools can be reduced in spite of those factors by making the school climate safe for every child. While it is primarily the responsibility of every school authority to make that happen, teacher behaviors do contribute to the school climate (Allen, 2010).

Because of the complex dynamics involved in bullying incidents, teachers often find it difficult to recognize bullying behaviors (Atlas & Pep 1er, 1998). Teachers have reported uncertainty about how to intervene in bullying situations, especially when there are no witnesses. Some perceive bullying as a typical childhood problem with no long-term effects. School personnel may also face personal and professional consequences for taking a stand against bullying (National Council of Teachers of English, 2012). …

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