The new Connecticut anti-bullying law that went into effect July 1 has made some great strides. Let’s look at some of the highlights:
Punishing bullies vs. creating a “Safe School Climate”
One of the main and most important changes made to the language of the anti-bullying law actually takes the focus off how schools are to react to incidents of bullying and places the emphasis on creating a “safe school climate” instead. I am all for this change. I have been saying all along that the solution to bullying is character development in our schools and this new law promotes that approach.
Creating a “Safe School Climate”
Each school must create a “safe school climate plan” that “contains the essential elements outlined in the new law.” Each school must also designate a “safe school climate coordinator” and a “safe school climate specialist”. The SSC coordinator is responsible for keeping the SSC plan on track, meeting with the SSC specialists at least twice a year and providing data to the superintendent and district regarding bullying. The SSC specialist is tasked with investigating the actual reported acts of bullying. Along with all this, the school must also develop an in-service training program to train it’s staff on the identification of, response to and prevention of bullying.
What’s interesting to me here is that we needed a law to require what seems obvious to me. Regardless of what you call it, or the people responsible for it’s implementation, shouldn’t all schools, as part of their day-to-day operations, already have someone or some group responsible for developing an atmosphere of safety and respect in our schools?
Prohibit bullying outside the school setting
The new law reiterates that bullying does not have to occur on school grounds in order for the school to get involved. Even if the bullying occurs on the bus or at school sanctioned events it is still the responsibility of the school to deal with it.
The new law now includes that even if bullying occurs “off school grounds" it is still the responsibility of the school to get involved. All that is required is that the act of bullying ”creates a hostile environment at the school for the victim, infringes on the rights of the victim at school, or substantially disrupts the education process or the orderly operation of a school.”
Some will think that the school shouldn’t be required to get involved if an incident happens “off school grounds.” That it’s none of the school’s business. That’s a fine statement, but it falls apart as we focus on the real issue. Providing a safe environment for our children at school. The fact is, that the only organization we have in place that can handle and be responsible for such things are our school systems. In fact, they are the perfect entity to handle such issues.
Dealing with the parents
Under the new law, schools are required to notify parents/guardians of students who commit any verified acts of bullying. Did we really need a law to require schools to inform the parents of the bully that their child is abusing other children? This step again seems obvious to me.
The new law also requires schools to invite parents/guardians of the perpetrator and victim of bullying to a meeting to communicate the measures being taken to ensure the student’s safety and prevent further acts of bullying.
I think this is a step in the right direction, but that it doesn’t go far enough to truly root out the cause of school age bullies – the parents. I feel that “invite” is too weak of a stance. If a parent’s child is abusing other children, they should be required to attend such a meeting and be required to take steps to help their child become less aggressive and abusive. I would also like to see some language in the law which requires the parents of the bully to inform the school of what they will do with their child to prevent further acts of aggression against other students. Perhaps some mandatory counseling for the child and the family is in order. Is this going too far? Is this encroaching on the parents rights? I can’t speak to that.
“Parent’s rights” are whatever we all agree are “parent’s rights.” Getting caught up in a discussion about what are or aren’t the rights of the parents to raise their children as they see fit misses the point. This is about what serves the child and the community.
What I can say, without a doubt, is that parents are almost universally responsible for their child being a bully. If a parent has their child’s best interests in mind, they should jump on such an opportunity to help their children. The parents that would complain about “infringing on their rights” are the ones that are excessively controlling or violent with their children. These are the parents that would need this requirement the most, in spite of themselves.
The new, expanded law makes strides in all the right directions. I am very happy to see these changes. I’m sure more changes will be forthcoming. Our laws are like that, they grow and adapt organically over time. Hopefully the next round will contain some language putting more responsibility for our children’s behaviors on the parents and holding parents accountable for those behaviors.