3 years is too long to wait for anti-bullying program
A committee has recommended that the public schools establish a prescribed plan by 2010.
A systemwide program to counter bullying and harassment among students in Hawaii public schools should be worked out carefully to ensure even-handed and effective policies.
There are many issues to consider. However, a committee's recommendation that the Department of Education adopt a program by 2010 does not seem to reflect an urgency in line with the problem.
Many students endure intimidation and threats, if not physical harm, because of their appearance, race, economic status, national origin, sexual orientation and other characteristics, according to a 2005 survey conducted by the Safe Schools Community Advisory Committee.
Nearly 7 percent of middle and high school students feared going to classes at least once a month because they felt unsafe. Thirty-six percent of middle school and 28 percent of high school students said belongings were stolen or deliberately damaged at least once a year at school. Another 16 percent in middle school and 10 percent in high school had had a fight on campus one or more times a year.
A report by the advisory committee -- made up of 23 individuals from the department, the University of Hawaii, the Department of Health, immigrant aid groups, social service providers and others -- said school administrators, teachers and staff seem ill prepared to deal with student and parent complaints effectively and that at times, aggressive students "face little or no repercussions for their actions."
These conditions likely lead to bullied students not reporting offensive conduct, which could disguise more widespread problems. In addition, aggressive students are not receiving the counseling or discipline needed to curb their bad behavior.
The committee's recommendations include setting up reporting procedures and corrective measures that administrators, teachers, parents and students know, understand and observe, and training for employees.
The panel also suggests that students attend annual assemblies focused on bullying, but more frequent sessions in smaller groups could be more productive. Protecting students who report harassment from retaliation and preventing hostilities among groups of students would be more difficult.
Nonetheless, schools need to emphasize continually that harassment will not be tolerated, possibly as they do with anti-drug and anti-smoking campaigns.
The committee, which has been meeting monthly since March 2005, appears to have put considerable effort into an important undertaking. Its 95-page report will go to the department and will be discussed with education officials.
Though the department will need time to put a plan together, three more years seems too long for implementation. Officials would serve students better to speed up the process.