Students being bullied at school is not a new phenomenon. With the developments in technology, cyberbullying has become another form of bullying that impacts students. However, bullying is commonly confused with other types of conflict. Stopbullying.gov defines both bullying and cyberbullying:
- Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Both kids who are bullied and who bully others may have serious, lasting problems.
- Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place over digital devices like cell phones, computers, and tablets. Cyberbullying can occur through SMS, text, and apps, or online in social media, forums, or gaming where people can view, participate in, or share content. Cyberbullying includes sending, posting, or sharing negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone else. It can include sharing personal or private information about someone else causing embarrassment or humiliation.
As educators, we are now aware of the long-term and often devastating impact any type of bullying has for students, and can no longer say “kids will be kids.”
How many students are bullied at school?
The National Center for Educational Statistics noted that one out of five students reported being bullied at school. The prevalence of cyberbullying is difficult to determine based upon poor or inconsistent reporting. As a school board member, what can be done to ensure the safety of students?
There are 16 key steps that could be supported to strengthen the prevention of bullying. These steps include:
- Understanding and distributing district policy on bullying
- Preparing and distributing school rules and procedures for dealing with bullying
- Instituting awareness training for students, staff, and parents
- Forming a coordinating committee
- Obtaining school data on bullying
- Establishing a schoolwide positive culture development plan
- Training staff on prevention and intervention
- Identifying problem sites for bullying
- Establishing adequate adult supervision
- Defining a bullying complaint process and response
- Developing a parent information and involvement plan
- Identifying curriculum content for classroom support
- Identifying methods for bringing new students and staff up to speed
- Planning specific help for students who are bullied
- Planning specific help for students exhibiting bullying behaviors
- Conducting ongoing evaluation of the program
The role of the school board member to address bullying is clearly enhanced when board members, in one voice, support appropriate policies and guidelines that impact key steps 2–16.
What is the school board’s role in preventing bullying?
School boards are responsible for establishing policies that address topics from developing school board meeting agendas and dissemination, hiring and firing personnel, to student discipline and prevention programs. Most districts adopt policies relative to different types of student discipline, including bullying and cyberbullying.
Historically, board policies only applied to bullying incidents that occurred in schools during the school day or at extracurricular events. Today, most schools also address bullying activity taking place after school hours and not on school grounds if it impacts the school day by creating a disruption. Reporting requirements vary among states and districts.
Given the nature of bullying/cyberbullying, schools may opt for counseling and/or intervention programs to raise awareness of the implications for individuals who are bullied, foster empathy among students, and prevent future incidents, as opposed to disciplinary actions. Increasingly, districts view bullying as a school safety issue that needs to be addressed.
With approximately 20 percent of students reporting being bullied at school, this is clearly a safety issue and should be considered with other aspects of crisis planning. Roaten (2007) noted four categories of crisis: developmental, situational, existential, and environmental.
What causes bullying, and how can we stop it?
Often, schools are focused on situational crises, which are unpredictable and beyond an individual or group such as random crimes or a shooting incident. Some consider bullying a precursor to a developmental crisis. Roaten defines a developmental crisis as naturally occurring events such as anxiety or stress; there is ample evidence that bullying causes anxiety and stress along with a myriad of other emotions.
Bullying and its effects can be addressed through a crisis lens where the primary focus is on preparation and prevention of bullying with supports in place for response and recovery. Prevention would include raising awareness, teaching social and emotional learning and self-regulation, in addition to specific bullying prevention programs.
Effective programs support all students in the school and promote a positive school climate. Some schools include aspects in their PBIS (positive behavioral interventions and support) program, or other similar programs designed to decrease undesirable behaviors.
Others purchase comprehensive programs such as OLWEUS Bully Prevention Program, which includes components for classroom, individual, and community levels. The social and emotional learning curriculum can address bullying by fostering empathy and a supportive school climate. Second Steps is an example of this type of curriculum. Some districts have funded such programs, and others have worked collaboratively with community partners, community resources, or grants.
Who benefits from bullying prevention?
Regardless of whether programming was developed within the district or purchased, implementing such programs shows the students that all levels of the school’s organization care for the safety, well-being, and success of every student. Board members should be aware of any implementation efforts within the district and request updates on bullying-prevention efforts.
It is imperative that school boards set a positive and proactive tone for teaching and learning, fostering a culture within the district that provides a safe learning environment. As most district vision and mission statements approved by school boards attest, the primary reason students are in school is for an academic focus, building capacity for teaching and learning success.
School boards can do much to remove barriers for student learning, which includes minimizing all forms of bullying. For teachers, this could be fostering an inclusive classroom; for school counselors and social workers, this could be providing individual support for students experiencing bullying. For school board members, their duty lies in developing policies and guidelines that address bullying/cyberbullying and approving the implementation of appropriate prevention and intervention programs.
In fact, school boards and superintendents form a team that is best positioned in the school district to think systemically about how everything connects within the district to minimize bullying. This team understands the resources and capacity available to minimize bullying through a district-leadership lens, a perspective of duty of care for students that no one else garners.
Twenty percent of students will experience bullying in school. School boards must ensure appropriate policies and guidelines are in place to minimize this crisis-level impact on teaching and learning.
National Center for Educational Statistics. Bullying. Accessed at
https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=719 on August 26, 2019.
Roaten, G. (March 2007) From crisis comes opportunity [Blog post]. Accessed at
Stopbullying. Accessed at https://www.stopbullying.gov, August 26, 2019.