Last fall, the American Public Health Association reported that 43 percent of American middle school students were bullied within the previous 30 days. Since then the topic of bullying has moved to the front pages of newspapers and led television newscasts–both locally and nationally.
Much of that recent interest was fueled in March by the tragic story of a 15-year-old Massachusetts schoolgirl who committed suicide after being unrelentingly bullied in person and online.
The state government took quick action and earlier this month the governor signed a bill designed to prohibit bullying on school property and at school-sponsored events. It also prohibits cyberbullying by eMail or social media networks such as Facebook or Twitter.
The new law requires school staff to report incidents of bullying to the principal, who must then investigate and take appropriate disciplinary action. Principals must also notify the parents of both the victim and the bully. Schools will also be required to add bullying prevention programs to the classroom, as well as provide training to faculty and staff.
Those are all good steps that should be followed in the other 49 states. But there are a couple of things missing here.
First, all schools should have hotlines that allow anyone to anonymously report incidents of bullying or violence. And schools need to make sure they have surveillance cameras in hallways, stairways, lunchrooms, locker areas, playgrounds and outside restrooms, where bullying is most likely to occur.
Often, charges of bullying get down to a “he-said, she-said” situation. Having recorded evidence of incidents can break that potential logjam.
Too often we minimize the deep emotional scars that bullying can leave on children. As adults, it’s up to us to do our best to stop it from happening.
Patrick Fiel is public safety advisor for ADT Security Services and a former executive director of school security for Washington, D.C. Public School System. He also served 22 years in the Army Military Police Corps, where his responsibilities included day-to-day security operations at the West Point Military Academy. During his time with ADT, Fiel has conducted more than 100 television, radio, newspaper, and magazine interviews as a public and school safety expert.
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