Federal officials aim to prevent bullying

State, district, and school leaders discussed best practices for bullying prevention.
State, district, and school leaders discussed best practices for bullying prevention.

In day two of the federal Bullying Prevention Summit in Washington, D.C., policy experts from the Department of Justice (DOJ) and school leaders shifted their conversations from the scope of bullying across the country to the practical steps schools can take right now to help prevent bullying in the classroom.

While most of the sessions were helpful, federal officials were short on answers to questions about cyber bullying.

Read about Day One here.

The day’s session began with a description of the specific actions the DOJ is taking in partnership with the Education Department (ED) to combat bullying, as well as the resources that will be available this year.

“The biggest focus of the DOJ right now is on prevention programs in schools. Punishment, while in some cases appropriate, is not the only thing the DOJ is about,” said Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli.

According to Perrelli, the DOJ has conducted numerous studies on youth violence, most recently a report called the “National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence,” which found that 60 percent of children in the U.S. are at some point exposed to crime, abuse, and/or violence.

In light of these and other findings, Perrelli said the DOJ understands the importance of a partnership with ED. Perrelli said both agencies are looking at prevention strategies that focus first on getting everyone in the community (business executives, school leaders, parents, and students) united to prevent bullying, and second on fostering a sense of responsibility in youth to intervene and report on bullying.

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) also has a Model Programs Guide, which is an online portal to scientifically tested and proven programs that address a range of issues across the juvenile justice spectrum. The Guide profiles more than 175 prevention and intervention programs and helps communities identify those that best suit their needs. Users can search the Guide’s database by program category, target population, risk and protective factors, effectiveness rating, and other parameters.

OJJDP also will begin a five-bulletin series dedicated to bullying issues and research, starting in late 2010 or early 2011.

Although prevention programs can pave the way for bully-free school environments, there are also many legal steps students and parents can take to combat bullying, said Russlynn Ali, assistant secretary for civil rights at ED.

“So many times students and parents don’t know that bullying can fall under the protection of their civil rights, and that they have options that go beyond local law enforcement,” Ali said.

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR), which has 12 offices around the country, enforces Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin), Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (which prohibits discrimination based on sex), and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (which prohibits discrimination based on disabilities).

The OCR receives and resolves complaints, which Ali said this year will reach upwards of 7,000—and about 70 percent of those complaints will be from middle and secondary school students.

“What we do is deal with each case and how that case relates to what’s happening in schools. In many cases, we review the school culture as a whole and mandate programs, have schools provide counseling for the student, raise community awareness, and much more,” explained Ali.

To learn more about filing a complaint with the OCR, go here.

However, while the DOJ and OCR are making strides in combating bullying, some issues have yet to be resolved.

For example, Perrelli was asked by a summit attendee how schools can combat cyber bullying, because most of it happens off school grounds.

“Some of the most aggressive and vicious bullying happens through the web when students are out of schools, and many schools are asking if, and how, they can step in and stop this bullying. It seems that perhaps the DOJ should take more of a leadership role in this area,” said the attendee.

In response, Perrelli said the DOJ will step up its work on this issue.

Meris Stansbury

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