By Heather M. Hulse, JD, MA, MS
The statistics regarding bullying in schools are staggering. For example, the United States Department of Justice reported the following:
- American schools harbor 2.1 million bullies and 2.7 million victims of bullying
- One out of every seven students in Grades K-12 is either a bully or a victim of bullying
- 90% of fourth through eighth graders report being victims of bullying
- One out of every ten students who drop out of school do so because of repeated bullying
- 160,000 children miss school daily due to fear of attack or intimidation by other students
- 15% of absenteeism is directly related to fears of being bullied
- 282, 000 students are physically attacked in secondary schools each month
- 75% of school-shooting incidents have been linked to harassment and bullying
- One out of every 20 students has seen a student with a gun at school
- Bullying is an important contributor to youth violence, including homicide and suicide
- 71% of students report incidents of bullying as a problem at their school
- 56% of students have personally witnessed bullying at school
It is first important to understand the definition of bullying and the types of bullying that plague students. The United States Department of Justice defines bullying among children as encompassing a variety of negative acts carried out repeatedly over time. It involves a real or perceived imbalance of power, with the more powerful child or group attacking those who are less powerful. There are several types of bullying: 1) physical – hitting, kicking, pinching, punching, scratching, spitting or any other form of physical attack; damage to or taking someone else’s belongings may also be classified as physical bullying; 2) verbal – name calling, insulting, making racist, sexist or homophobic jokes, remarks or teasing using sexually suggestive or abusive language, offensive remarks; 3) indirect – exclusion from social groups, spreading malicious rumors, and sending abusive mail; and 4) cyber – any type of bullying that is carried out by electronic media, such as through text messages, picture/video clips, e-mail, chat-rooms, instant messaging, and through Facebook and other websites.
It is also important to understand the significant and devastating effects of bullying, both on victims and those who bully. Specifically, according to the National Institute of Child and Human Development, bullying has long-term and short-term psychological effects on both those who bully and those who are bullied, sometimes lasting into adulthood. Victims experience loneliness and report having trouble making social and emotional adjustments, difficulty making friends, and poor relationships with classmates. Victims often suffer humiliation, insecurity, and loss of self-esteem, and may develop a fear of going to school. Those who bully and are bullied appear to be at greatest risk of experiencing loneliness, trouble making friends, lack of success in school, and problem behaviors (such as smoking and drinking), and also are at greater risk of suffering from depression and other mental health problems.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) can be a very effective way of addressing bullying in schools. Pursuant to the IDEA, students with disabilities that are determined to be eligible for special education services are entitled to a free appropriate public education (“FAPE”). This includes being provided with a safe educational environment. Not only are some students who are identified with special education needs at higher risk for being bullied due to their poor social skills (such as students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Asperger’s Disorder, Autism, Anxiety, and Depression), students who are bullied are very likely to develop anxiety and depression due to the bullying, which may then warrant providing special education services.
It is essential for schools to proactively address bullying of their students. A very effective means to do this is through an appropriate Individualized Education Plan (“IEP”). An IEP is designed to address the specific needs of a student that has been identified as a special education student. Some examples of services that may be included in a student’s IEP in order to address bullying include: a classroom aide to monitor bullying; social skills training; self advocacy training; daily discussions with a trusted adult at end of school day; class-wide training to foster a proper culture of respect, create circle of friends with peers, counseling by School Psychologist, Guidance Counselor or Social Worker, physical separation from the bully, teacher training, and offering services to the bully’s family, such as counseling, family training, social skills program, evaluation for specialized services.
Addressing bullying of students through an appropriate IEP helps to ensure that any significant psychological effects of the bullying can be addressed. Because IEPs require the use of research-based programs to address the special education needs of students, it can also help to ensure that schools utilize appropriate programs that have been proven to be effective to both prevent and address bullying of students. Utilizing IEPs to address bullying also helps to ensure that appropriate progress monitoring is occurring.