In the latest Weekly Wright Report:
- How to Handle School Bullying – read now
How to Handle School Bullying
by Thomas Moran
Two of my kids were recently involved in a bullying incident on their school bus. While they weren’t the perpetrators (which brought a sigh of relief from me considering how they scuffle with each other at home!), it was a real wake-up call for me. Many times, as parents with jobs and other responsibilities, it’s easy to lose perspective of the fact that our kids have their own busy, hectic, sometimes scary lives at school. When a schoolyard dispute crosses the line, it’s natural for a parent to feel anger and frustration. After all, we can’t be there with them at all times to ensure that nobody is picking on them – or, on the flip side, that they’re always being nice. Here are some tips to keep in mind if your child faces bullying at school.
(Note: the advice in this article is geared toward parents with children in public school. In private schools, students’ rights and disciplinary procedures are covered in the contract with the school. These contracts can vary wildly, so private school parents should always know what is in their contract before they take action).
First, make sure to notify the school, in writing. The school leadership can’t do anything about the problem if they don’t know about it! Many significant incidents go unreported to school leadership, even if witnessed by an adult. There are various reasons for this: the adult may not have had a clear view of what happened, or may have gotten confused by various accounts of the incident from multiple sources, or just didn’t think it was a big deal. Regardless, a cordial but direct letter to, at a minimum, the school principal and your child’s teacher providing the basic facts of the incident is more likely to be taken seriously than a verbal complaint.
Second, be sure that your child is aware that you and the school are working on the issue. Let him or her know that you’ve told the school and that they can expect to be asked for their version of the facts. You should prepare your child for the meeting with school personnel that will inevitably follow. It’s easy for a child to get frustrated or confused when an adult with authority is asking them questions. Impress on your child that he or she should not argue, should not raise their voice, should not interrupt, and, of course, should always tell the truth to the best of his or her ability. Note: if your child is accused of a serious offense, you should contact a lawyer before agreeing to have him or her speak with school officials.
Third, keep in mind that the other children involved have rights too. It’s natural to be curious whether a child accused of bullying has had other behavioral issues, or what the punishment will be. However, the school will be subject to privacy laws that preclude it from giving you this information. Focus your inquiries not on how the school is dealing with the student accused of bullying in particular, but how the school will ensure that similar events don’t happen in the future. Will there be increased supervision? Will there be a change in reporting or prevention procedures? How will the school deal with it if the offending behavior continues? You and your child have a right to know.
Fourth, keep it off social media. This applies to you. This applies to your kids (all of them!). Agitating on social media, no matter how eloquently done, will not reflect well on you or your child if your words make their way to decision-makers. It could also create potential inconsistencies that can be used to poke holes in your child’s version of events.
Finally, be patient but don’t be afraid to escalate if the results are unsatisfactory. It will take time for the school leadership to get a full understanding of the issue, interview the students involved, consider the facts and agree on corrective measures. It’s unrealistic to expect everything to be wrapped up within 24 hours. That said, if over a week has gone by and you haven’t received a substantive response from the school, consider elevating the inquiry to the superintendent of the county/city schools. If that doesn’t work, and the behavior is ongoing, remember that most of the activities that fall under the broad category of “bullying” are crimes. If your child is being subjected to threats of bodily harm, extortion, assault, hazing or severe harassment (in person or by computer), and nothing is being done, it is a matter for law enforcement. Depending on the severity of the conduct, of course, involving the police may be advisable at an earlier stage.
If your child is being bullied and the school isn’t handling it properly, please call Tom Moran at (804) 362-9434. Tom practices in Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia.
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