The January suicide of tormented 15-year-old South Hadley, MA student Phoebe Prince rocked the nation and shed much-needed light on the grave seriousness of bullying in schools. Strollerderby reported on April 21st that family friends and advocates started a campaign to craft anti-bullying legislation in her honor. Now, according to the Washington Post, the South Hadley school district “has unveiled a draft anti-bullying policy that details measures that should be taken to prevent, or intervene in, a bad situation.” And – this just in – the Massachusetts Legislature voted today and unanimously passed an anti-bullying law. Representative John Scibak told the Boston Globe, “This is a day that we can be proud we have done something positive to eradicate bullying and to demonstrate to this commonwealth and to the nation that bullying will no longer be tolerated.” (Scibak’s district includes South Hadley.)
Additionally, the Graduate School of Education at the University of Buffalo this week opened the Jean M. Alberti Center for the Prevention of Bullying Abuse and School Violence. Alberti, a clinical and educational psychologist in Chicago and UB alum, told The Buffalo News, “Bullying abuse is child abuse by children. If we don’t allow abuse by adults, why do we allow it by children?” The Washington Post reports that “about one-third of students aged 12-18 say they are bullied in some fashion.”
The Baltimore Sun says that the city is stepping up their efforts to educate children against school violence “after a third-grader who was a victim of chronic bullying at a West Baltimore elementary school said she wanted to kill herself.” The difficulty with properly addressing bullying in schools is two-fold. First, instances of harassment often go unreported by students, and reported cases are often ignored by teachers and administrators hiding their heads in the sand, hoping the problems will just disappear. Dennis Moulden, chair of the Parent and Community Advisory Board for Baltimore’s Gilmor Elementary said “in most cases of bullying — and he said he has been contacted about many — the outcome ultimately depends on how seriously school leaders handle the situations.”
Alberti thinks that school officials “need to impose negative consequences for children who bully and to mandate that teachers report incidents of bullying to administrators.” It seems almost impossible to protect children from being harassed by other students during the school day. That is, as many parents have argued, part of growing up. But serious bullying – the kind that prompts kids to commit suicide – is clearly not something we can afford to ignore. The vote in Massachusetts today is a promising step in the right direction.