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Why it's so difficult to get schools to deal with bullies


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A forum I frequent was discussing bullies and bullying, and the difficulty so many parents, and kids, seem to be having getting schools to do something, or even recognize, that the bullying is happening.

 

The user WE_Coyote, who identifies as someone who studied school administration in graduate school, offered the following insights, which I thought was very interesting:

 

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Maybe I can offer a little insight. I studied school administration in graduate school. It comes down to issues of student rights, liability, lawsuits and optics.

Student Rights

Up until the early 90's it was relatively easy for school administrators to deal with bullies by means of suspensions and expulsion for continual behavior. Then the lawyers started getting involved and started suing school districts and principals. They argued, among other things, that even violent students still had a right to an education and that out-of-school suspension/expulsion deprived them of that right. They also argued that because they are public school students the rights to procedural due process applied to them. The courts agreed with these and other arguments. The result was that it became exponentially more difficult to suspend/expel a student. For instance, in most cases it can take up to a year or more to expel a student from an individual campus due to the various procedures and hearings that have to be held in order to comply with the right to procedural due process and if the district loses the case they are on the hook not only for their legal expenses but also the expenses of the student.

Liability & Lawsuits

If the administration punishes the bully then they are, in effect, saying that they are aware that this student is a problem and poses a risk to the student body. This can lead to lawsuits from victims of the bully against the school district for knowingly keeping a violent student on the campus. If the school doesn't punish the bully then they can play stupid if a victim ever decides to sue.

If the bully also happens to be of a racial minority, the district also opens themselves up to a whole slew of civil rights lawsuits by punishing the bully. One of the favorite charges in this case is that the district is targeting poor little Akeem just because he's black or Jose because he's hispanic. This leads to optics.

Optics

If a school decides to punish a bully, especially a racial minority bully, and the mother or some other involved person plasters their face all over the news talking about the racist school, racist principal, racist, racist, racist; the school doesn't have an opportunity to defend itself from the accusations because of student privacy laws. They are forced to deal with the onslaught of protestors, the accusations of racism and so forth.

If the bully is anyone else and the mother decides to raise a fuss then the school will still have to deal with the fall out without being able to tell the news "Hey, see this one-inch thick stack of complaints? Yea, this is the discipline record for this kid." It creates a public relations nightmare and pulls resources from education to deal with all the bullshit fall-out from people who are only getting one side of the story.

The whole system of dealing with trouble makers is broken and unfortunately a lot of it is the courts fault for creating legal precedents that schools are requires to abide by. This could easily be remedied with state level legislation but then that will end up being challenged in court by lawyers looking to protect whoever they think they are protecting and that's just more wasted money on dealing with a case that will likely be lost due to the previous court precedents, not to mention state legislatures tend to have more pressing issues to deal with, so something like school discipline reform is a very low priority.

 

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One thing that works is video cameras in the hallways and grounds that can be used to demonstrate that the bullying took place. If there are claims of racism because the bully was a minority then hiding the perpetrator's face in the video and releasing it usually works to stop the protests. In fact, even just saying that the perpetrator is on video is enough to stop the protests.

Colin  :icon_geek:

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It sounds like so much bullshit to me.  The schools should have rules in place.  Most do these days.  If a student breaks the rules, which he's signed off on, he gets the discipline that he's also signed off on.  No prejudice, no racial bias, just following school rules and procedures that the student is aware of and has agreed to.

Where's the lawsuit going to come from?  The kid broke the rules, got caught, got punished.  Deprived of an education?  Of course, not.  Districts have continuation schools for kids that get in trouble, that can't keep up, for all sort of kids who can't make it in mainstream schools.  If there is no continuation school, the suspending school can pay for the student to be home schooled, which will be a hell of a lot cheaper than fighting it in court.  There would be rules in the home schooling system as well, and if they student doesn't make progress, the tutoring could be suspended.

There has to be some sort of support for the bullied kid.  That's paramount.

I think if the schools aren't defending their own procedures about bullying, then they're the ones at fault.

 

C

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Although I like Colin's suggestion of video camera evidence, I think that one of the primary locations for bullying is within the walls of the restrooms, both boys' and girls', and I am pretty sure that placing video cameras in those environments is a big no-no.  Documenting who enters and exits the restrooms may be possible but I bet it would be a very touchy subject in most districts.

I do think Cole's position is the only one possible.
James

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Educating kids about bullying and reporting it to school staff when it's seen is critical and must start in elementary school and be covered every grade to reinforce anti-bullying with "report any bullying you see." Once kids unlearn the so-called "no snitch rule" (invented by bullies long, long ago) bullying has been found to be dramatically reduced. Add the kind of enforcement Cole describes and bullying can be eliminated as a common occurrence.

Colin  :icon_geek:

 

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I agree with both colinian and Cole here. It always seems to come down to the school administration, and their mindset and approach. And that begins with the principal. They set the tone. What is their goal for their school, for their students, for their career? What do they want to achieve? Control? Discipline? Happy students? Highest test scores? Most sporting wins? The combination of goals and approach to achieving these makes all the difference in the world.

Sadly, some administration goals and methods foster a bullying environment. Others virtually eliminate it.

 

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On 6/22/2018 at 2:00 PM, Merkin said:

Although I like Colin's suggestion of video camera evidence, I think that one of the primary locations for bullying is within the walls of the restrooms, both boys' and girls', and I am pretty sure that placing video cameras in those environments is a big no-no.  Documenting who enters and exits the restrooms may be possible but I bet it would be a very touchy subject in most districts.

I do think Cole's position is the only one possible.
James

It is interesting to note that a number of recently built school in the UK have done away with gender-specific restrooms. They all report a drop in reported incidents of bullying.

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How does that work, Nigel?  All private stalls?  Are the boys comfortable taking dump if a girl is pissing in the stall next to him?  It seems a bit extreme to me, but marvelously progressive.  It seems to be treating teens more like adults.  I've often noted that when one does that, most teens tend to respond by acting more maturely.

C

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4 hours ago, Cole Parker said:

How does that work, Nigel?  All private stalls?  Are the boys comfortable taking dump if a girl is pissing in the stall next to him?  It seems a bit extreme to me, but marvelously progressive.  It seems to be treating teens more like adults.  I've often noted that when one does that, most teens tend to respond by acting more maturely.

C

Essentially that is how it works, a large open area with private stalls down each side. The stalls have floor to ceiling dividing walls and full height doors.

 

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And within a week, if it's a somewhat slow student body, there will be the high school equivalent of a Mile High Club and suddenly the problem about bullying is forgotten.

Building physical obstacles to bullying is not much of a solution. It's in the hearts and minds of the students that the war must be won, and if you can't win that, you'll never solve the bullying problem.

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