More effort necessary to curb school bullies
An advisory committee says harassment remains a persistent problem in public schools.
GETTING through school is tough enough without having to deal with harassment from bullies and thoughtless individuals. While Hawaii public school policies state there should be zero tolerance for such behavior, restraining students from hounding those who they see as different is almost impossible to do. That said, administrators, parents and students themselves must take strong measures to stop the offensive conduct.
An advisory committee appointed last year to review the problem told the state Board of Education that bullying and harassment persist in public schools because of insensitivity, an unwieldy process for reporting incidents and a lack of emphasis on prevention.
For administrators and teachers, filing harassment reports should be streamlined. Although separating petty disputes among students from real harassment can be difficult, it is imperative that victimized children get help and support and that bullies are punished and counseled. Children who are harassed should be able to report incidents without fear of retribution.
Schools should make clear to all students that tormenting others is unacceptable by finding ways to frequently underscore the message. Simply handing out printed materials at the start of the school year isn't enough. Schools have anti-drug and anti-smoking campaigns and there is no reason anti-harassment programs can't also be conducted.
Parents should also be made aware of schools' policies against harassment since they are the primary guides for their children's behavior.
The committee told the board that any number of things can trigger harassment, including ethnicity, religion, economic status and disabilities. However, one of the key provocations appears to be a student's sexual orientation. Gay and transgender students are often targets for taunts, teasing and worse.
In 2000, the school board adopted a policy that prohibits harassment based on "race, color, national origin, ancestry, sex, religion, disability or sexual orientation which creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive school environment" that can "interfere with the education of a student, or otherwise adversely affect the educational opportunity of a student."
The policy was adopted with the added reference to "sexual orientation" because homosexual students had been most at risk for bullying. Six years later, it appears that gay students remain a particular target despite the policy's words.
While there's little schools can do to eliminate bigotry completely, they can pave the way for young people to accept and understand differences among their peers. Education need not be limited to the 3Rs.