School Anti-Bullying Laws Are The Wrong Approach

Posted by on March 31, 2010

School anti-bullying laws ‘sound good and feel good, but they provide little-to-no new resources to educators.

High-profile bullying incidents, including a number resulting in victim suicides, have fueled calls for more state and federal anti-bullying laws.  The latest school bullying case in Massachusetts resulted in the death of 15-year-old Phoebe Prince and criminal charges against nine teens.  School officials have also been blamed for not effectively responding to the incident.

Anti-Bullying Laws Are Hollow, Provide False Sense of Hope

Most schools already have policies and programs in place to deal with bullying, and anti-bullying legislation is simply the wrong approach to dealing with the issue.

Ironically, some civil rights advocates and academicians are calling for anti-bullying laws and stronger responses to bullying by school officials.  I find it odd these advocates want laws on bullying and wish for schools to have policies, take stronger action, and even call police, but at the same they are advocating for schools to be less firm on discipline and school-based crime by reducing suspensions, expulsions, calls to police, and arrests by school police officers.  They’re sending a conflicting message, at best, and seem to want to be selective on what school safety and discipline issues they want educators and police to be tough on at school.

Anti-bullying laws sound good, feel good, and are politically correct, especially in light of a high-profile tragedy. But by-and-large, on a day-to-day basis, they have done little-to-nothing in terms of giving new resources and tools to educators, school administrators, or parents.

Anti-bullying legislation has created a false sense of hope and resolution of a complex problem. The laws require schools to have anti-bullying policies, but school policies already address those behaviors which would constitute bullying: Harassment, intimidation, extortion, assaults, threats, menacing, sexual assaults, disruption of schools, etc.  When the behavior rises to the level of a crime, the criminal code also has laws on the books to address related criminal behaviors.

The anti-bullying laws are typically unfunded mandates requiring educators to spend more time doing paperwork to say they have anti-bullying practices instead of being in the hallways and cafeterias preventing bullying.

I offer a deeper look on my web page on bullying and anti-bullying legislation.

School Policies Already in Place, Comprehensive Approach Needed

Most, if not all, schools already have policies in place to address harassment, intimidation, threats, school disruption, and physical assaults. Many schools have also developed school climate strategies and programs addressing bullying-type behaviors since the spate of school shootings in the late 1990s. Another law won’t solve the problem.

The question is whether the schools have the prevention and school safety funding for programs, and if they are using school policies, discipline codes, and tools already in place.I testified at a July 9, 2009,Congressional House Joint Subcommittee hearing which addressed bullying and the need for comprehensive school safety programs.

Bullying is a serious issue which needs to be addressed. We have to make sure it is done, though, as a part of a comprehensive approach to school safety. There is no single cause of school violence and no single cure.

Too often, legislators jump on a single-issue bandwagon, skew the focus on one aspect of school safety, and neglect a more comprehensive approach which includes strategies from prevention to preparedness. Knee-jerk reactions and legislation is no more helpful than doing nothing, in many cases.  

Parent Education and Advocacy Needed

Parents need to know how to advocate for themselves and their children when necessary, whether their children are the victims of bullying or other school violence, or whether they believe their children have been unjustly disciplined.  Relying upon hollow state laws and the hopes that the education or other systems will teach them how to advocate is unrealistic.

Parents should read my step-by-step tips for addressing school safety concerns with school officials. Parents also should review my questions and actions parents can take to assess school safety. Finally, parents should follow this blog as I will be addressing parent school safety posts on a regular basis.

What suggestions do you have for parents who are concerned about school safety and who need to know how to navigate their way through the systems to address these concerns?

Ken Trump

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One thought on “School Anti-Bullying Laws Are The Wrong Approach

  1. It’s true laws don’t mean much in the moment but parents still need a channel or avenue in which to turn to. Parents are the ones that feel like they don’t have support and laws help people feel protected. With that said, a typical bully at school will care less about laws unless they are aware of the consequences. Part of what I do it make sure bullies know what is happening to student who get caught bullying other students, especially when victims take their own lives.

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