In popular American culture, the Bully is a stock character. Children’s stories like A Christmas Story often involve a reversal of fortune in which the generally meek protagonist turns the tables on his bully, blows a gasket and defeats the brute at his own game. But too often, there is no such reversal, only a seemingly unending gauntlet of persecution and degradation endured by thousands and thousands of American kids and teenagers. Bullying isn’t a new problem, but the trend of making bullying a school district’s legal problem is.
Earlier in 2011, the Southern Poverty Law Center brought a massive suit against Minnesota’s largest school district for failing to curb anti-gay bullying, in part, the suit says, because the district as a policy prohibiting faculty and staff from acknowledging the sexual orientation of its students.
In Texas, Joe Timothy and Tami Carmichael filed a $20 million suit against the Joshua Independent School District alleging that their son’s suicide was caused by incessant bullying by peers–bullying that the school district failed to address. Bullying litigation is one the rise, and cases are constantly popping up all over the country.
Perhaps in direct response to such suits, New Jersey recently ratified an “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights” that is the most stringent anti-bullying legislation in the country.
The legislation will lead to assemblies and lectures designed to promote awareness about the dangers and consequences of bullying. Included in this curriculum will be time and resources usually spent on teaching every day courses.
There’s also the issue of bullying that takes place outside of school, then spills onto school grounds. Speaking to the New York Times, Richard G. Bozza, executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators said, “I think this has gone well overboard. Now we have to police the community 24 hours a day. Where are the people and the resources to do this?”
For public schools around the country that already struggle for the funding requisite to provide a functional academic experience, more time and money spent on social aspects of school may seem wasteful. But school districts also feel the pinch when they are ordered to pay out large settlements to families negatively affected by un-policed bullying. These days, when schools don’t do enough to keep kids safe, they’re going to pay for it, one way or another.
Photo Credit: Studiostoer