The Problem of Bullying in Schools
The problem of bullying in schools is both a child welfare and an educational concern. Social work bullying can be a focus area.
Students who are bullied are in danger of being physically and emotionally injured, in addition to the disruption bullying can cause in an educational environment. Students cannot be expected to concentrate and perform well academically when they feel their safety at school has been threatened or compromised.
Social Work Bullying: Two-Thirds of All Teens Have Been Harassed or Assaulted
According to a study conducted in 2005 by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), “two-thirds of teens report that they have been verbally or physically harassed or assaulted during the past year because of their perceived or actual appearance, gender, sexual orientation, gender expression, race/ethnicity, disability, or religion1”.
The GLSEN study found that physical appearance is the most common reason for a student to be physically or verbally harassed, with actual or perceived sexual orientation the second most common reason1.
LGBT Students Feel Three Times Less Safe at School
The study also found that students who identify as or are perceived to be lesbian, bisexual, gay, or transgender (LGBT) are “three times as likely as non-LGBT students to feel not safe at school,” and “90% of LGBT teens have been verbally or physically harassed or assaulted during the past year because of their perceived or actual appearance, gender, sexual orientation, gender expression, race/ethnicity, disability, or religion1”. Thus, the issue of school violence and bullying specifically is conceived as a gay rights issue as well.
At present, each school handles the issue of bullying individually, usually through implementation of some form of harassment policy, which may or may not specifically include bullying.
These harassment policies also vary regarding whether or not they specifically mention sexual orientation or gender identity/expression as inclusive targets of bullying. Notably, the current method of addressing bullying does not include funding for prevention or educational programs for students, or intervention and prevention training for teachers or other school personnel.
Proposed Policy Changes and Goals
The Safe School Improvement Act of 20152 proposes an amendment to the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act, which became effective on July 1, 2002, as Title IV Part A of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. No Child Left Behind reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.
Safe Schools Improvement Act of 2015
Social Work Bullying: The Safe Schools Improvement Act of 2015 would make bullying prevention and education programs eligible to receive grant funding from the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act (SDFSC) as well, by amending the text of SDFSC to include “bullying and harassment” as forms of violence, and broadening the definitions of harassment and bullying, listing sexual orientation and gender identity as protected groups.
The Safe Schools Improvement Act has three main short-term goals that could be achieved soon after its passage:
- for every school receiving federal funding to adopt a code of conduct that specifically prohibits bullying;
- to gather data regarding the incidence and prevalence of bullying and harassment across schools nationwide;
- to provide funds to maintain, improve, or create programs aiming to prevent, prohibit, educate about, or intervene in bullying and harassment.
Long-Term Goals of the Policy are Numerous and Include:
- to improve the school climate so that feelings of threat or fear are diminished and the environment is more conducive to learning;
- to reduce the occurrence of bullying and harassment through prevention and educational outreach programs;
- to train teachers, administrators, and other school personnel to effectively intervene when bullying and harassment does occur;
- to identify the causes of bullying so that it can be addressed more effectively;
- to continue to maintain school-based anti-bullying and anti-harassment programs;
- to protect students from harm in the school environment, particularly those who have been identified as particularly vulnerable to bullying.
The Case for Implementation
The goals of the Safe Schools Improvement Act are especially poignant in view of the numerous teen suicides related to bullying and harassment in recent years. The program’s goals, which seek to educate and prevent conduct that includes bullying and harassment on the basis of a multitude of personal characteristics, are legal, just, and democratic.
In fact, the goals of the policy aim to eliminate illegal behavior that is currently going on in schools across the nation, and thereby, provide justice to both victims and perpetrators.
If the program is able to achieve its short and long-term goals, the target population’s quality of life, and feelings of safety in the school environment, as well as academic achievement, would begin to improve over time.
Moreover, the policy would be able to do so without stigmatizing the target population, thereby promoting positive relations between students covered under the policy and the rest of society.
Legislation Stands in the Way
The greatest impediment to full implementation of the policy at present is the passing of the legislation. At this stage, the Safe Schools Improvement Act has been introduced and assigned to a congressional committee3, but has not yet been put to a House or Senate vote, nor signed into law by the President.
Until those steps are accomplished, the national bullying and harassment problem must continue to be addressed on a school-by-school basis.
Social Work Bullying
However, the Safe Schools Improvement Act addresses the extremely prevalent and relevant social issue of bullying and harassment affecting school-aged students nationwide, and full implementation of this policy could produce many positive benefits for its target population, including feeling safer in the school environment and thus, improving academic performance, and a reduction of bullying and harassment, providing a better social climate and improved physical health for students who are victims of bullying.
Reference List for the Article Social Work Bullying:
1Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network. From teasing to torment: school climate in America [Internet]. New York (NY): Harris Interactive, Inc. and Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network; 2005 [cited 2016 May 17]. Available from https://www.glsen.org/download/file/MzMzMg==
2Sanchez, LT. Text of the Safe Schools Improvement Act of 2015 [Internet]. Washington (DC): Civic Impulse, LLC; 2015, June 25 [cited 2016 May 17]. Available from https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/114/hr2902/text
3Govtrack.us. HR2902: Safe Schools Improvement Act of 2015 [Internet]. Washington (DC): Civic Impulse, LLC; 2015 [cited 2016 May 17]. Available from https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/114/hr2902