It is inconceivable to think that if a school knows that a student is being harassed, intimidated, or bullied, it would not act to protect that child. While laws may vary by state, schools should absolutely be held accountable to protect children from incidences of bullying.
Here are some important pieces of advice for parents when it comes to bullying and working with their child’s school:
- Most public schools have a "zero tolerance" policy. This policy, in theory, will protect any student who reports they are being bullied (look in your school’s handbook or code of conduct to better understand how the school can be accountable for addressing bullying). Unfortunately, victims do not always report they are being bullied. Often, students are afraid that the bullying will intensify, that they will be labeled a “snitch,” or that reporting simply won’t help. Parents can help by reporting the bullying on behalf of their student. Bullying/Harassment Reporting Forms can be found on most school district websites and/or in the school’s guidance or main office. Teachers/staff members who hear verbal bullying, name-calling, threatening comments, teasing, or taunting are typically required to intervene by reporting this to administrators.
- Verbal bullying is frequently misjudged or underestimated. Being called names, or being teased or taunted can have a negative impact on a child’s emotional health. This cannot be ignored. Erased should be the thinking that "kids will be kids" or that the victim should learn to ignore their bullies or "toughen up."
- Physical, verbal, and cyber bullying often have the same mental and behavioral health outcomes for the victim. No matter the type of bullying, victims often suffer from depression, anxiety, lowered academic performance, decreased interest in extracurricular activities, poor sleep and eating habits, frequent school absences, and more.
- It doesn’t matter whether bullying happens on or off school grounds; students should be protected at school. Whether a student is pushed, tripped, hit, harassed online, or is the victim of rumors spread via mass texts or social media, he or she should be protected while at school. Schools are charged with the responsibility to provide a learning environment that is safe for all students. Schools need to be held accountable for bullying – regardless of if it happens on or off school grounds.
We encourage parents to familiarize themselves with their school’s policies regarding bullying. If the policies are weak, don’t stop there. Advocate for protection against bullying and changes to the handbook if needed so that schools are expected to act immediately to protect children they know are being bullied. Hold your child’s school accountable if they fail to protect against bullying in accordance with school policy… it’s the right thing to do!
Heather Gaskins, M.Ed., is a diagnostic and prescriptive teacher with Sheppard Pratt Health System’s child and adolescent services. She acts as an advocate and liaison among schools, families, and the mental health services at Sheppard Pratt.