Education Department Issues Stern Reminder on Bullying
By Mary Ellen Flannery
More than 15,000 schools and school districts, as well as 5,000-plus colleges and universities, received a critical reminder Tuesday from the U.S. Department of Education: “To put it simply, in this country, we don’t believe bullying should exist,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
To that end, the Department of Education’s new guidance makes clear that some student bullying actually violates federal anti-discrimination laws that protect gay, lesbian and transgendered students as well as members of other protected groups. In its letter, the Department included specific examples of bullying and appropriate responses.
The White House also announced Tuesday that it would host a conference next year – with educators, students, parents and community members – to raise awareness of bullying and provide tools to prevent it. Likewise, the Department of Education plans to hold technical workshops on bullying in 2011.
“Bullying takes a terrible toll on students, and the scars can last a lifetime,” said NEA President Van Roekel, who applauded the Administration for its release of the information and its recognition of the growing problem. “NEA believes that all people – regardless of their race, religion, ethnicity, size, physical ability, sexual orientation or gender identification – should be guaranteed a safe and inclusive environment within their public school.” (Read the full statement from Van Roekel in NEA’s Press Center.)
That students are bullied – sometimes to heart-breaking ends – has become increasingly apparent. This school year started with no fewer than five high-profile suicides by victims of bullying, including a New Jersey college freshman whose roommate had secretly filmed him kissing another boy and then transmitted the images on the Internet. (On EdVoices.com, read more about the celebrity “It Gets Better” video project launched in response.)
“Of the thousands of U.S. students who kill themselves each year, we know that thousands of them were bullied – and nobody came to their defense,” said White House Domestic Policy Council Director Melody Barnes. “As a country, we all have to confront bullies and stand up for each other and ourselves.”
For more than a decade, NEA has been engaged in exactly that kind of work. Its Bullying and Sexual Harassment Prevention and Intervention Program provides training to educators on dealing with student-on-studying bullying, as well as the newer issues of cyberbullying and sexting, and its Health Information Network is actively involved in responding to school violence as it results from bullying, both in person and online.
Helpful resources and information for educators also can be found on nea.org. Meanwhile, federal officials urged educators to check out their resources at bullyinginfo.org.
“Working together, we can bully-proof our nation’s schools,” promised Van Roekel.