William Howe is Connecticut Department of Education’s program manager for bullying, harassment and civil rights, knows that bullying is a serious problem that needs to be tackled in order to optimize student’s learning outcomes. A healthy climate is a prerequisite to classroom learning and that climate must be developed from the people within the school environment not turning a blind eye to bullying behavior.
Every single person in a school, including the custodian and cafeteria worker, must treat the school community as family, Howe said.
“You don’t let your family members get hurt,” Howe said, “Bullies do what they do because they know they can get away with it.”
Jo Ann Freiberg is Connecticut’s consultant for dealing with bullying in schools. She notes that definition is an obstacle as it is in many disciplines. There is a major difference between someone having their homework defaced and someone being physically and mentally tortured until they commit suicide. While both are problems with limited resources the concept of triage should always apply.
“Everything comes in the door as bullying,” Freiberg said. “Anything that happens, it all becomes bullying. So when everything is bullying, nothing is bullying.”
How often bullying gets reported also increases with national awareness and media coverage. If films like ‘Bully’ do nothing else to stop bullying behavior among troubled children they at least increase the percentage of reported incidents and allow more victims to be rescued or helped.
The Connecticut legislature last year passed an anti-bullying law which places the state at the forefront of the battle against bullying in schools. The law was approved unanimously and mandates training for employees and reporting of bullying incidents. It’s modern enough to tackle the new area of cyber-bullying and will speed up school response times. From next year schools will be mandated to report bullying acts to the state. The stated aim of the bill is to decrease teen suicide rates as a result of bullying.
Connecticut — “the envy of the nation” — is routinely getting calls from other states for guidance on the idea of building a good school environment to prevent bullying, according to Freiberg.
“We are making incredible progress. Connecticut is doing what ought to be done nationally,” she added.
For Freiberg, like Howe, the most important part of the bill is state wide school climate assessment criteria, and she considers this the most important part of her job; the creation and maintenance of a safe school climate in which children can learn without fear.