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Do Schools Need Anti-Bully Policies?

March 24, 2001|SAMANTHA MacLAREN

How far should schools go to protect students against bullies? The Newport-Mesa school board in Orange County adopted an anti-bullying policy, which could mandate the same suspensions for bullying as for bringing a weapon or alcohol to school but would more likely result in lesser penalties. SAMANTHA MacLAREN spoke about the measure with a school official and with a Los Angeles student.

REBECCA GOGEL

Assistant principal; Estancia High School

Like other schools, we occasionally come across students who have harassed another student, but we don't consider bullying to be a big problem at our school. This policy is not designed just to provide a punishment to offenders. Suspension should always be a last resort. Other options--such as parent meetings, counseling support and referrals to various counseling community agencies--will always precede the ultimate consequence of suspension or expulsion.

But we have an obligation to provide a safe learning environment for all our students. To that end, we look at each case individually, and with the parents, determine the best possible option.

As a school, we try to address harassment before a student feels that violence is a response. As a school, we will always encounter students who need to be reminded of appropriate behavior.

Bullying will not be totally eliminated by this policy. But as educators, we have a responsibility to do everything we can to create a safe learning environment. The state education code, which essentially says the same thing, applies to all schools in California. The Newport-Mesa Unified School District, to continue its support of a safe environment, simply restated the education code in the form of a board policy.

I think that any bullying, no matter how prevalent it is, is a problem. No student should ever feel unsafe at school.

Students who feel helpless, who feel that other interventions have failed to protect them, may think that violence is the only answer. Because so many students who are bullied never resort to violence, the obvious deduction is that harassment is not the singular factor causing violent responses. Research has indicated that other environmental factors, including a possible predisposition to violent outbursts, may play a critical role in determining the "breaking point" for students on the edge.

Students bring bullies to the attention of school staff now. I hope that this policy, and the school climate as a whole, will encourage all students to communicate to us so that we can help them.

MILES NORCELL

17, senior, Fairfax High School

There is a vast difference between bringing a weapon or alcohol to school and bullying someone around. That's why this policy is a bad idea; the offenses are totally unrelated and the punishments should be different.

There will always be bullies. They won't stop because of a school policy; the bullying might just move from school to the street.

Not everybody is going to get caught either because some kids are just going to be too afraid to complain about someone harassing them.

It's extreme to think that someone bringing a knife to school would be treated the same as someone who was just "punking" a kid for his lunch money. School officials should be more concerned about the kid with the weapon, not the bullies.

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