Last week, University of Virginia professor Dewey Cornell — an authority on youth violence and school safety — completed a comprehensive report on the scope of bullying in Virginia’s elementary, middle and high schools.
Unfortunately, the results were predictable.
Just as in many other local and state surveys of years past, the vast majority of schools participating in Cornell’s study cited bullying as their students’ top safety concern. Nearly 92 percent of state middle school students mentioned bullying as the top problem. The numbers weren’t a lot better in our elementary (83 percent) and high schools (77 percent).
Bullying certainly has received a great deal of attention in recent years, and Loudoun County Public Schools has worked diligently to review and improve the system’s policies to address and reduce incidents of bullying.
But with the advent of social media, and with incidents of bullying being exported from the school playground to neighborhood incidents involving schoolmates – which is more challenging to address – being vigilant about bullying must be a year-round enterprise, which is in part why this is the topic of a late July editorial.
Because, while progress has been made, the Cornell report demonstrates that the latest survey numbers show that a much more concerted effort is in order for the coming school year.
When nine of 10 Virginia seventh-graders say it’s the biggest problem in their school, something isn’t working.
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of Cornell’s 52-page report, which included data from all 2,002 of the state’s public schools, is elementary school administrators spend significantly more time on bullying prevention than their middle school counterparts.
While every 8 and 9-year-old should learn how not to become victims or perpetrators of bullying, that instruction must be reinforced in sixth, seventh and eighth grades as kids navigate through a delicate world of insecurity and self-doubt.
What’s also clear from Cornell’s report is the lack of consistency from county to county, school to school and, too often, classroom to classroom.
At a bare minimum, every employee in a public school building should be trained on the long-term effects bullying can have on the social and emotional adjustment of students. They should be aware bullying often is linked to high dropout rates, low test scores, drug use and thoughts of suicide. The list goes on.
Making matters worse is that the playing field for bullies continues to expand. Yesterday’s punching and name-calling has evolved into vicious text message campaigns and mean-spirited Facebook attacks.
This isn’t an issue on which to tread lightly. Rather than hiding behind the “kids will be kids” defense, it’s time the eighth grade girl who harassed a classmate for six months be treated just as harshly as the 17-year-old senior who brings alcohol to a high school football game.
Send them home and tell them not to come back for five school days. Oh, Jessica has a critical exam coming up and a lead role in the school play? Too bad.
It’s also worth reminding everyone that an assault is an assault. If John punches Joey at the Dulles Town Center mall on a Saturday afternoon, there’s a good chance criminal charges will result from the incident. A locker room at Woodgrove or math classroom at Park View shouldn’t be viewed as a protective shield.
If the next bullying survey in Virginia is going to look different than the last 20, accountability has to be part of the equation.
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