Sunday, January 30, 2005

Bullies Beware: Akron School Board Approves New Policy

On December 31, 2004, we profiled the disturbing case of an Ohio bully that had an accomplice videotape his brazen classroom assault upon a younger schoolmate while class was in session. The tape was subsequently broadcast throughout the mid-west; the two miscreants were charged (not as adults but under more lenient juvenile statutes) with the stalking and assault of their victim. (As we pointed out, the thing that angered us most was when Superintendent Jim Rykaceski insinuated that the unprovoked beating was the victim's fault.)

As one might expect, the broadcast of the disturbing videotape caused quite a ruckus throughout the state of Ohio. The state legislature is considering a law that would require all school districts to develop anti-bullying guidelines.

Not ones to wait, the Akron public school system is making a promise to deal with the problem of school bullies. The governing board has adopted a policy that is aimed at stopping kids from being "picked on" by their predatory classmates.

In a major policy shift, teachers and principals will now be required to report any "aggressive behavior" to district authorities, who will now be required to investigate.

Aggressive behavior is defined as:
"Inappropriate conduct that is repeated enough, or serious enough, to negatively impact a student's educational, physical, or emotional well-being. This includes stalking, bullying, intimidating, menacing, coercion, name-calling, taunting, making threats and hazing."
District officials will be directed to "promptly investigate," all reported incidents. The discipline imposed upon violators would depend upon the type of bullying involved.

We are encouraged by this step in the right direction, but the we will wait to see if the Akron School District's actions will match their words.

Even though some child psychologists will say that bullying is often a manifestation of underlying psychological problems, our chief concern is for the welfare and safety of the bullies' victims. It is for that reason that we think that it would be best if bullies are quickly removed from mainstream classroom environments and placed in a more structured program more suited to their needs.

Maintaining a safe, orderly, and nurturing learning environment is paramount if our system of public education is to ever truly serve the needs of our children.

We are tired of hearing excuses nonsense such as: "Bullies are a fact of life; kids have to learn to deal with them; the bully has issues; they'll grow out of it; there is nothing that we can do; Etc." The truth of the matter is that thousands of good, hard-working students go to school everyday in in mortal terror that one of these little thugs is going to hurt them.

As parents, we are often unaware that our own children are being victimized by these malefactors until the mental and physical damage is done. That's because of the peculiar code of silence that all students, nearly all teachers, most principals, and some superintendents are familiar with.

We can (and should) put a stop to it.

Any effective program to eliminate school bullying is sure to cost large sums, and so we'll see if the Akron school system is actually committed to making positive changes. Or will this simply be some sort of stunt fabricated to garner a few easy "public-relations" points in the community.

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