Schools still working to rein in bullies
(Page 2 of 2)
One major hurdle is funding. With an anticipated $11.3 billion shortfall in state education budgets in 2002, schools will be scrambling for dollars.Skip to next paragraph
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"Finances will hurt [antibullying] programs," says Kevin Dwyer, a child mental health consultant based in Bethesda, Md. "School systems are tightening their belts. They're not adding programs, they're trying to find out how they can reduce them."
Then there's Sept. 11.
"Sept. 11 has put everything else on the back burner," says Elliot Aronson, visiting professor of psychology at Stanford University in California and author of "Nobody Left to Hate: Teaching Compassion after Columbine." "In this country, we can only worry about one thing at a time."
And yet, while many mental health experts share Mr. Dwyer's concerns, there are others who insist that, if anything, the terrorist attacks will serve to make antibullying programs in schools all the more imperative.
"What Sept. 11 has done is to heighten awareness of the sanctity of life and the essence of humanity," says John Murphy, director of the school psychology program at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway. "There's been an increased focus on people and relationships instead of things. I can't see how that would do anything but strengthen people's interest in making sure we treat each other humanely."
The attacks may also help open the eyes of children to the need for kindness in the world, says Katheryn Jens, school psychologist for the Cherry Creek, Colo., school district.
"Terrorists are a terrible type of bully," she says. "They illustrate the unfair use of power, as well as the idea that those who believe in being kind and fair must stick together. These are the very things we've been trying to teach kids."
Pollack says the need to deal with bullying will not diminish. If anything, the fears connected with terrorism will heighten the emotional pain that tends to trigger bullying.
"This can't be the end," he says of the antibullying programs. If the problem isn't dealt with, he insists, "We'll be seeing more, not less of this."
Society as a whole may feel an increased concern about bullying in schools, but it's not an area that the courts have been eager to address.
This fall, the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of a North Carolina case in which a father alleged that a school failed to protect his son, who had been beaten repeatedly by school bullies. The North Carolina court concluded that the school was not required to protect the boy from harm by classmates.
"There have been a number of cases like these in which courts have not supported the requirement for schools to protect children from harassment, assault, and bullying," says Dewey Cornell, director of the Virginia Youth Violence Program in Charlottesville, Va. "There's a vast difference between the protections adults have in the workplace and kids have in schools."
With the exception of cases involving civil rights - such as sexual harassment or abuse tied to racial or ethnic prejudice - legal protection against bullying is limited, agrees Perry Zirkel, professor of education and law at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa. But he doesn't necessarily see that as a negative.
The best remedy for bullying, he believes, will come not from the courts but from an informed public.
"Awareness does more," Professor Zirkel says. "It causes people to become empathetic" and to help at the local level.