The Colorado House of Representatives is considering a bill to stop school bullying (House Bill 1254).  In an effort by some legislators “to be proactive…so we don’t have a sensational suicide in [Colorado],” the core of the bill will:

  • Create a committee to study the problem.
  • Set up an agency to solicit funds for training of teachers on how to combat bullying (when funds are available from public and private sources).
  • Require use of uniforms to “encourage school pride and unity and promote uniformity of dress.”
  • Set up a voluntary statewide survey of schoolchildren about bullying in their schools.
  • Bar teachers or school administrators from punishing students who report bullying.

The program would continue until July 1, 2016, at which point its effectiveness would be reviewed.

To be kind, this is nice but falls far short of what’s needed to protect children and prevent more suicides.

To be honest, this means nothing.  But it allows legislators to say they’re doing something to stop bullies and bullying.

Notice there is:

  • No requirement that principals, teachers, counselors and district administrators are required to have proactive programs designed to stop harassment, taunting, teasing, bullying or abuse.
  • No requirements for school officials to be responsible for working with law enforcement officers to stop cyberbullying.
  • No consequences or legal penalties for school officials who don’t stop bullies or who actively protect bullies or who remove victims from classes and activities while still allowing bullies and their friends complete access to their targets.

If you don’t think that principals and other school officials ignore bullying, then read about the many suicides that have occurred in the past year.  In almost every case, the parents say that they talked to principals many times over 6-12 months, but the principals now claim that they didn’t know what was happening.  Also, consider why they need a law to “Bar teachers or school administrators from punishing students who report bullying.”

Even worse are people who pretend that present laws are enough or that it’s too hard for school officials.  For example:

  • “Jane Urschel, executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards, said the bill would not only be burdensome for schools who will have to form and adopt a new bullying policy, but it also asks them to address an issue they are already acutely aware of.  This bill would put mandates on districts that they can’t afford.  The school districts are not ignoring this issue and want every child to be safe.  Schools already have a handle on this.”
  • “Rep. Robert Ramirez, R-Westminster, has already said he is skeptical of the need for it. ‘I have a huge problem with legislating personal behavior.  Bullying is something that is already addressed by schools as incidents occur. A state law isn’t going to change anything.’”

I’d point out that:

  • School officials do not have a handle on this.  In answer to Ms. Urschel and Representative Ramirez, the problem is that there are no laws that require principals to stop bullies.  That’s why there are so many cases in Colorado in which bullying is tolerated, which means condoned.  For example, see the investigative report by Theresa Marchetta of KMGH-TV (ABC affiliate in Colorado).  Without laws, principals can do nothing to stop bullies and be safe from personal consequences.  In addition, with no additional funding, many schools in Colorado with principals who want to prevent bullying manage to do so.  I live in Colorado and have grandchildren in some of those schools.
  • When there are no laws or there are no penalties for breaking laws, people do what they want.  Can you imagine how effective laws against robbery and murder would be if they didn’t have penalties?  How effective would child labor laws or laws to prevent unsafe working conditions be with no penalties?
  • Individual school and district officials are now the ultimate and only judges.  With no laws or penalties, they are the final court of appeals.  Parents of children who are being relentlessly bullied cannot force officials to protect their children.  The only recourse for parents is adverse publicity.
  • We know what will change the whole system.  It’s not suicides.  It’s when principals, teachers, counselors and school district administrators are fired for not protecting our children.  It’s when law suits are successful against officials who are being paid to be responsible for protecting children but fail in that primary duty.  Suddenly, all the excuses and foot dragging will be gone.  A few principals will quit and I’ll applaud.  The rest will magically discover reasons why and how they can make programs that stop bullying.  In other contexts it’s called “skin in the game.”  Right now, school officials don’t have any skin in the game.

I’d think that Ms. Urschel and Representative Ramirez were actually interested in stopping bullying if they came forward with strong, realistic, effective proposals of their own, complete with penalties, instead of merely being critics.

The problem is not lack of money of lack of an effective system.  The problem is that we don’t have good enough people responsible for the safety of our children.

According to the Colorado Trust Bullying Initiative, of students surveyed in 2008:
* 57 percent reported verbal bullying
* 33 percent reported physical bullying
* 10 percent reported online bullying

We need laws that criminalize the behavior of bullies and of principals, counselors, teachers and school district administrators who put our children at risk by not stopping bullies.  And then we need people with courage who are willing to act.

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Resources Cited: http://www.denverpost.com/legislature/ci_17497983 and http://www.coloradonewsagency.com/2011/03/01/bill-would-curb-new-wave-of-bullies-at-school/

Ben Leichtling, Ph.D. is author of the books and CDs “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids” and “Eliminate the High cost of Low Attitudes.” He is available for coaching, consulting and speaking.  To find practical, real-world tactics to stop bullies and bullying at home, school, work and in relationships, see his web site (http://www.BulliesBeGone.com) and blog (http://www.BulliesBeGoneBlog.com).

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