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LTM Editorial: Despite progress, school bullying still intimidating

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.


tairy green, many anti-bullying programs were put into place in schools across the country in the wake of the Columbine shootings, premised on the belief that Harris and Klebold acted because they were bullied and ostracized by their classmates. A more considered analysis has shown that not to be the case; the two killers were not loners, they were not bullied. They were something else, two deeply disturbed teenagers. (Check out Dave Cullen’s “Columbine” for an excellent analysis, as well as http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2009-04-13-columbine-myths_N.htm)

This is indicative of much of the problem with our bullying prevention programs: we don’t base our decisions on which programs to use and where to employ them on science and facts; our decisions are politically or PR based, knee-jerk reactions to the fad de jour. All of the programs implemented as a result of Columbine (including those here in Loudoun) were responses to the wrong problem, and therefore had misappropriate goals.

Bullying wasn’t a problem at Columbine High School in Columbine, Colorado until April 20, 1999.

Kids that get bullied today are more and more coming to believe that it’s better to be pissed off than pissed on.  Loudoun County is an archetype for the typical American suburb, where image and income are held highest amongst its virtues.  Societies like these alienate (and in a place like Loudoun, amplify the alienation of) outsiders (thus, the bullying problems).  It’s sad to see the mainstream media place the culpability on things like music and video games, when the ones responsible for the bully-dominated environment are many times heralded as pinnacles of superiority amongst their high school peers.

God forbid, but scenes such as Columbine won’t be the last :(

Mike Flagg, it’s likely the administrators you talked to didn’t know what to do. Bullying is rarely overt, at least to the adults in the school, making it very difficult to detect and respond to it effectively. The best way to handle it is through prevention. Unfortunately, the jury is out on the efficacy of bullying-prevention programs; most schools don’t really evaluate effectiveness, and most of the scientific studies show little or no success, even with the Safe School Ambassadors program Loudoun uses.

Schools and staff really need to focus on social-emotional learning as part of their education approaches, creating a safe environment and modeling desirable behavior, but regrettably most teachers do not receive this kind of professional development. Consider how authority works in a school. It is top-down and based on many zero-tolerance policies, hardly conducive to showing children how to work collaboratively and tolerantly together. A significant percentage of middle and high school classrooms are managed in a climate of “I am the teacher and you do what I tell you—or else!” Bif points out that many bullies have parents who bully; to a large extent, this is true of the teacher/student relationship as well. Numerous studies have shown that school bullying is not limited to peer interactions.

Before we blame the teachers for this, we need to realize what we’re up against. One, the middle and high school work environment revolves around a job whose focus is that of adult over child, where power is very important; despite best intentions, this is going to attract people who find this an important aspect of the job, especially when there is minimal adult-to-adult interaction (or even oversight). Second, teachers receive very little “classroom management” training in which observation and coaching are part of the professional development program.

For bullying to decrease in schools, we educators need to get better at making a safe and respectful learning environment part of every aspect of our lessons and interactions with the students.

The problem in most cases of child bullying is that one of the two parents of the bully are in fact a bully themselves.  Usually, the parent that is saying that “they are just kids” is protecting their own child who is just like them, a big bully.  Until the parent is dealt with as a bully, the child will never learn otherwise.

When my sons were attending Simpson Middle School, Loudoun Valley High School and Stone Bridge High School they were both victims of bullying. Meeting with school officials culminated with the response of “Well, there’s really nothing we can do about the situation”, which was a very precise description of their actions under Ed Hatrick’s ‘leadership’. We soon after removed both of them from LCPS and home schooled them, which solved the bullying issue in addition to giving them a far superior education.

The danger here is to assume that just by putting an “anti-bullying” program in place we have addressed the problem. Dr. Cornell’s report identifies an important aspect of the issue—the extent to which student survey respondents feel bullying is a problem—and states that 76 percent of all schools have a bullying-prevention program. It is easy to perceive from this that we are taking care of the problem our children face daily in school classrooms, hallways, and cafeterias—assuming the programs are actually working.

We very much need to ask ourselves if they are.

A number of Loudoun middle and high schools have been administering bullying-prevention programs for years. Frequently, these schools argue that easily identifiable behaviors and incidents like vandalism, fights, expulsions and suspensions are the very visible consequences of bullying, and if the more hidden behaviors of put-downs, shoves, and exclusions can be interrupted through peer training and intervention, the obvious symptoms should decrease.

If your child’s school has just such a program, please ask your administrators if they are measuring its results. It would seem easy to measure vandalism and fight suspension and expulsion rates, but for some reason many of these programs focus measurement on inputs, specifically how often trained students intervene in perceived bullying situations. Such measurement of inputs is important, but to ignore assessment of the above-the-waterline aspects of this bullying iceberg—the outputs—does the program and our children a huge disservice.

It would be interesting to see if LCPS can provide data on any changes in these overt symptoms since the programs started. Focusing on effort over results is never productive.

@kidsneedsupport. Your part of the problem today. Pressing charges and taking people to court. Yes kids get into fights. And yes it is on the parents to correct thier kids when they are in the wrong. But to press charges and tie up our court system with this is wrong. The only policing that should have been done is by the parents of the kids involved.

As a mom who has been bullied in school, and having two of my four sons bullied at school and at home there is still a problem. The biggest being that no one wants to put the responsibility where it should be. ON THE PARENTS! And no we should never let our children carry guns to school you idiot, their minds are not deveolped in the same way as an adult, although it looks like yours is not either. The most important things is to charge the parents when the children miss behave, and if ANYONE even puts a finger on your child, you call the authorities. I called the police after my son was kicked and bullied and punched by a kid in the neighborhood who was a year older and the parent came down and wanted to put it off as normal childhood behavior. The parent was pissed when I told her I was pressing charges and her child was not to be near mine ever again. Another incident not in this state but was still made worse by the school administrators who after we were done retired 4 of them the next year. When are people going to stop letting the bullies get off and start fighting back through the proper channels?

This wouldn’t be a problem if they would just start letting our kids carry guns in school.  All the way down to elementary school.  An armed school is a civilized school, right GOP????

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