Bullying in School Should Be Taken Seriously

tackling bullying in schools

California ranks #1 when it comes to school bullying. A jury in Los Angeles recently ordered the El Segundo School District to pay $1 million to a teenager who was bullied. According to a Los Angeles Times news report, jurors found that negligence, including the lack of supervision and training of school employees, was a factor in causing harm to the middle school student Eleri Irons, who was 13 when the bullying began.

Case of Severe Bullying That Caused Trauma

In the lawsuit filed in April 2019, the school district was accused of failing to supervise and protect the student who reported that she was “bullied, tormented and verbally assaulted” by three students between November 2017 and June 2018. The lawsuit stated that one student began a petition called “Let’s kill Eleri Irons.”

After teachers found out about this petition, they did not notify Irons’ parents, which resulted in severe physical and psychological trauma, the lawsuit alleged, adding that Irons, who is now 18, suffered post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), cut herself and sought refuge in the school nurse’s office almost every day during lunch break. When the girl’s parents sought help from the school’s administration and counselor, their worry was dismissed as “drama.”

What Are The Effects of Bullying?

Bullying can affect many people, including those who are bullied, those who do the bullying, and even those who witness it. Kids who are bullied can experience negative physical, social, emotional, academic, and mental health issues. 

Studies have shown that children who are bullied are more likely to experience depression and anxiety, increased feelings of sadness and loneliness, changes in sleep and eating patterns, and loss of interest in activities that they used to enjoy. Sometimes, these effects could linger into adulthood. In extreme cases, bullied children may retaliate with extreme violence, as with some school shootings.

Children who bully others could also engage in risky behaviors into adulthood, such as alcohol abuse, quitting school, early sexual activity, and abuse of intimate partners or other family members. Studies show that children who witness others being bullied are at an increased risk of alcohol or drug use and mental health problems.

What is Cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is bullying that occurs via digital devices such as cell phones, computers, and tablets. It could occur through text messages, apps, online social media, forums, or gaming where people can view, participate in, or share content.

Cyberbullying includes sending, posting, or sharing negative, harmful, or false content about another person. It may include sharing private or sensitive information about someone that could cause embarrassment or humiliation to them. Some of this bullying crosses the line into

unlawful or criminal behavior. Cyberbullying most commonly occurs on social media (Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok); text messaging and messaging apps; online forums, chat rooms, and message boards such as Reddit, and through email and gaming communities. In addition to causing embarrassment, cyberbullying can leave a permanent online record and cause damage to one’s reputation and credibility.

As cyberbullying becomes more pervasive with the increased use of technology, many states include this behavior under bullying laws. Schools may take action as required by law or with local and school policies that allow them to discipline bullies.

Preventing Bullying in School

There is no question that bullying can threaten both the physical and emotional safety of students. It could also adversely affect a student’s ability to learn. The best way to address bullying is to be proactive and stop it before it starts. There are many steps schools, and their staff members can take to make campuses safe. 

Training school staff members and students to prevent and address bullying can help sustain prevention efforts over time. There are no federal mandates for bullying prevention curricula or staff training. However, here are some options schools should consider:

Student activities: There are many creative ways in which students can learn about bullying prevention. For example, they can learn through research projects, role-playing, or theater. Creative writing projects, discussions, and art can also be used to address this sensitive topic on campuses.

Programs and curriculum: Schools could implement formal evidence-based programs or curricula. Many evaluated programs that address bullying are designed for use in elementary and middle schools. A school could select a program based on its demographics, capacity, and resources.

Staff training: This is probably the most critical component of bullying prevention. To ensure that bullying prevention efforts are successful, all school staff members must be able to recognize what bullying is, what the school’s policies and protocols are, and how to enforce the rules. Training can be successful when staff members are engaged in developing messages and content.

Seth’s Law: California’s Anti-Bullying Statute

Seth’s Law is a statute that essentially strengthens existing state anti-bullying laws to help protect all California public school students. Seth’s Law requires public schools in California to update their anti-bullying policies and programs, and it zeroes in on protecting students who are bullied based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity as well as race, ethnicity, gender, disability, and religion.

Seth’s Law, which went into effect in 2012, is named after a 13-year-old California student who tragically died by suicide in 2010 after years of anti-gay bullying that his school failed to address. The law also requires schools to protect complainants from retaliation for coming forward with a complaint.

In addition, it requires school districts to adopt anti-bullying solid policies that expressly set forth the characteristics protected under the law. Schools must also adopt a process for receiving and investigating complaints, publicize their anti-bullying policy, and include materials to support bullying victims on their websites. 

Most importantly, Seth’s Law requires any school staff members who witness an act of bullying to take immediate steps to intervene when it is safe to do so. The law says in no uncertain terms that schools have a duty of care to protect students.

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