“Bullying and the Responsibility of Schools”
By Marie E. Buczkowski, M.Ed.
Each day in the United States thousands of children from Kindergarten through 12th grade leave the comfort of their home to attend a school based program. And each day, unfortunately, thousands of students are ridiculed, teased, and/or bullied during a typical school day while trying to gain the education they so rightfully deserve. Bullying is the repeated behavior (verbal or physical) that occurs over a period of time in a relationship characterized by an imbalance of power (Olweus, 1994). Many times, bullying is considered to be physical contact or direct bullying such as tripping someone in the hallway or pushing a peer on the playground; however, bullying also occurs indirectly through subtle, verbal exchanges, intimidations, rumors, and excluding peers from various activities.
Along with direct and indirect bullying, a new phenomenon has developed called cyberbullying. Cyberbully involves the “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the medium of electronic text” (Patchin and Hinduja, 2006). Cyberbullies send photos, text messages, email, instant messages, and video through cell phones, personal digital assistants, and computers (Diamanduros, Downs, & Jenkins, 2008).
Bullying is divided into three distinct classifications with varying characteristics. Many times, victims of bullying are seen as quiet and withdrawn individuals. They typically appear depressed and/or anxious and are less socially accepted and have few friends (Conners-Burrow, Johnson, Whiteside-Mansell, McKelvey, & Gargus, 2009). According to research, bullies are usually more aggressive, impulsive, and have a more dominant demeanor about themselves. Surprisingly, bullies are typically accepted by their peers and have a positive relationship with peers and teachers (Conners-Burrows, et al 2008).
Finally, a unique category of students involves those who are considered as “bully-victims”. These children are those students who have been a target of bullying or are still a victim and also bully other students. Bully-victims are similar to bullies in that they are aggressive and impulsive; however, bully-victims target peers differently than pure bullies as they will typically use more physical aggression during a bullying incident. Furthermore, bully-victims have few friends and are many times disliked by their peers (Conners-Burrows, et.al. 2008).
Negative outcomes are frequently associated with bullying. Although victims may feel the negative outcome, bullies, themselves gain satisfaction from hurting others (Diamanduros et. al. 2008). Students on the receiving end of bullying have greater emotional stress and are likely to abuse substances (American school the source for school leaders, 2009). Victims of bullying may also experience depression, low self-esteem, anxiety, and loneliness. Additionally, absenteeism has also been associated with bullying (Schoen & Schoen, 2010). Another particularly tragic result of bullying has been suicide.
The implications of bullying are seen on a daily basis. Over 160,000 students stay home from school every day to avoid bullying (Schoen & Schoen, 2010). In a 2001 study by the Kaiser Foundation in conjunction with Nickelodeon TV network and Children Now, children ages 12-15 were interviewed regarding bullying. Eighty-six percent of these children said that they have been teased or bullied at school (http://www.focusas.com/Bullying.html). According to Schoen and Schoen (2010), girls are victimized by both genders while boys are typically bullied by other boys.
In January 2010 a 15 year-old Massachusetts high school student took her own life due to ongoing harassment and bullying, via traditional bullying and cyberbullying. Two years prior to this incident and only ten miles away, an 11 year-old boy used an extension cord to end his life as he could no longer withstand the effects of the bullying that occurred throughout his daily life (Hampson, 2010, paras. 19). During the spring semester in March 2007, a young 17 year-old Ohio student committed suicide after years of being taunted and bullied by peers (2009, paras. 2-4). Surprisingly, this same Ohio school district which claimed that it had an anti-bullying program in place, saw two students prior to 2007 commit suicide due to bullying (2009, paras. 7-8).
Bully Police USA, is an organization for advocating for bullied children, as of December 2010, and according to that organization, 45 out of the 50 states have enacted anti-bullying laws (http://www.bullypolice.org/). Although each state’s anti-bullying policy may differ, all policies must define specifically what qualifies as bullying (Malone, 2010, para. 2). On July 9, 2008, Governor Edward Rendell signed into law Act 61 which contains laws to address bullying in Pennsylvania. According to Act 61 §1303.1-A, each school entity in Pennsylvania must adopt a policy or amend its existing policy relating to bullying and incorporate the policy into the school entity’s code of student conduct required under 22 PA. Code §12.3(c). Additionally, the PA policy must identify the appropriate staff person to receive reports of incidents of alleged bullying. Furthermore, school entities must make the policy available on its website and if possible, in every classroom but most importantly in a central location within each school building. Pennsylvania Act 61 further requires that each school entity review its policy every three years. However, each year, school entities must provide a copy of its policy relating to bullying and the development, implementation, and prevention of bullying on its Internet website and in every classroom. Lastly, Pennsylvania Act 61 encompasses electronic or cyberbullying as part of the anti-bullying policy.
In today’s schools, there are many expectations placed on teachers. However, many times, teachers are unaware of bullying and if they are aware of it, many times they have limited knowledge of how to respond to it (Allen, 2010). The new form of bullying known as cyberbullying is a critical issue about which teachers need to become aware, as it is a major form of psychological cruelty. (Mason, 2008). Although cyberbullying occurs via cellular phones and/or the Internet and many times occurs outside of school, its implications on victims are similar to those of traditional bullying. Moreover, when applied to cyberbullying, harassment in cyberspace influences learning and emotional well-being (Mason, 2008). Mason (2008) asserts that girls are more likely to be targets of online harassment than boys.
Unfortunately, schools are not presently equipped with appropriate ways to deal with this new form of aggression (Mason, 2008). Moreover, The First Amendment places restrictions on school officials when responding with formal disciplinary actions in situations involving online speech by students (Mason, 2008). Most cyberbullying activities occur apart from school grounds; however, the harmful impacts are clearly being felt at school (Willard, 2007).
In considering cyberbullying incidences, the federal courts typically rely on the ruling of Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969) which acknowledged that unless the speech materially and substantially disrupts learning, schools cannot easily restrict it (Diamanduros, et al, 2008; Mason, 2008). According to Willard (2007), the Tinker standard reflects an appropriate balance between student free speech rights and the school interests in ensuring student safety. In the case of Bethel School District No. 403 et al. v. Fraser (1986), the Supreme Court ruled that schools may prohibit speech that undermines the school’s basic educational mission…school play a vital role in preparing students to participate in the society…(Mason, 2008). The Hazelwood standard is also used when dealing with cyberbullying and schools as it allows schools to impose educationally-based restrictions on student speech (Mason, 2008). According to Hazelwood School District et al v. Kuhlmeier et al (1988), schools are entitled to exercise control over school-sponsored speech and the First Amendment does not require schools to accept or tolerate speech that goes against the values held by the school system.
Although bullying and cyberbullying can occur on or off school grounds, each school entity has an obligation to protect each and every student. Schools should be a safe haven for students where they are free to learn and express their thoughts. Unfortunately, far too often, students are ridiculed or teased for expressing their beliefs and/or thoughts, for their physical appearances, and even their cognitive abilities. Schools are now required to increase their efforts to prevent bullying; however, schools and families need to work together to eradicate bullying and protect all children.
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American school the source for school leaders. (American School Board Journal, May 7, 2009). Retrieved from asbj.com/…/Cyber-Bullying
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Hampton, Rick. (2010, April 5). A ‘watershed’ case in school bullying. Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation
Malone, Marueen (2010, July 6) Anti-Bullying Policies. Retrieved from www.ehow.com/list_6703805_anti_bullying-policies.html
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Willard, N.E. (2007). Cyberbullying legislation and school policies: Where are the boundaries of the schoolhouse gate in the new virtual world? Retrieved from http://www.cyberbullying.org/cyberbully/docs/cblegislation
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