Every week in Moms Talk, we discuss issues that relate to parenting and ways to survive and thrive in the role of motherhood. This week, our question focuses on bullying.
If your child comes home from school and tells you "lots of kids say mean things to me at school," what do you do? Beyond the initial sinking heart perhaps followed by a sleepless night, what is the best course of action?
We are in a state that requires school districts to craft policies prohibiting bullying, intimidation and harassment. Those policies should include procedures for reporting, investigation of bullying, and a prohibition against retaliation for reporting bullying. See Mercer Island School District's Administrative Policy 3207.
But it's hard to know whether it's best to let something "blow over," or when a lack of response will make harassment worse. In August of 2011 school districts are required to update their policies to provide for anonymous complaints and informal complaints, according to Linda Mangel, ACLU Education Equity Director. Mangel told a group of lawyers "when bullying goes unchecked it gets worse" at a talk on "Law and Liberty: Student Bullying & Harassment."
She also reminded us of what we already know--it might be against the law to retaliate but does not mean the law can prevent retaliation. While most statistics indicate more bullying occurs during middle school, Mangel noted that 15% of high school seniors and 20% of high school sophomores reported they'd been bullied. For LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bi-Sexual Transgender) students 9 out of 10 reported having been harassed, according to the ACLU's data.
Without reporting the problem, we won't be able to fix it. So I vote for raising the issue with a school administrator you trust (note the policy currently directs complainants to the district's "compliance officer") and keep pressing if the problem continues. While the law does not yet provide as much protection for students at school as it does for adults at the workplace, it's moving in that direction and the action or lack thereof taken by the school district will be relevant in a legal setting.