Give Bullying Victims Full School Choice

May 9, 2018

by Rob Roper

In the wake recent mass school shootings, there is, rightfully so, much concern about how we can keep our classrooms safer from violence, and the role mental health plays in these tragedies. Bullying is a major topic in these discussions as the shooters tend to be victims of outright bullying, perceive themselves to be victims, or just don’t fit in with their peers and feel ostracized as a result.

Therefore, a recent story by Vermont Digger, Data indicates schools may be underreporting bullying, should set off alarm bells. The piece highlights the fact that the Vermont Agency of Education had to be forced by a judge after a “years long legal battle” to release public data on bullying in our public schools, and that the data the Agency did release indicates is that the schools are either ignoring or papering over the problem.

According to the article, 123 Vermont middle and high schools reported no bullying incidents at all, and those that did reported few. Yet, “In 2015, 24 percent of middle schoolers and 18 percent of high schoolers reported being bullied, according to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey….” Those two numbers don’t jibe, and, as someone who lived through middle school, I tend to believe the kids.

Karen Richards, the executive director of the state’s Human Rights Commission, is quoted in the Digger article as saying, “We have heard from too many parents who the school has gone through the investigative process, determined that there was no bullying, but the child is still experiencing it and the parents are kind of at their wit’s end.” This can’t be allowed to persist.

The schools have little incentive to do anything about the problem, and in some cases, to be fair, really can’t do anything about it. How do you separate two third graders whose personalities dangerously clash if there is only one third grade class in the school? An administration can’t force kids to accept a social outsider into an organically formed peer group. We, as a community, have to allow for other options.

And, here we get to the school choice solution.

If a child is a victim, or perceives him or herself to be the victim, of bullying, then it should be state policy to give that child a tuition voucher to get out of a toxic situation and the chance to find a school environment that works for that child. After all, how can anyone justify forcing a kid into a building every day where he or she does not feel safe, and in too many cases is actually not safe, from physical and/or mental abuse and the anxiety that comes from not fitting in.

Being subject to that kind of stress for an extended period of time — six years of elementary school, three years of middle school, four years of high school — trapped by law with no viable avenue of escape, can and does do lasting damage. Sometimes, but certainly not most times or even, thank goodness, many, to the point of violent eruption. But even for the non-violent victim of bullying the impacts can be devastating. As Bernice Garnett, an associate professor at the University of Vermont and the chair of the state’s Hazing, Harassment, and Bullying Council, said to Digger, “Kids who are bullied – and who bully – do worse in school, and have higher rates of depression and anxiety. The long-term effects are only just starting to be seriously studied.”

Giving students the right and the resources to find the school situation that is right for them will benefit all concerned. The student will be in a better, healthier position to learn if he or she feels happy and safe in the classroom. The school communities will benefit by ridding themselves of otherwise insolvable toxic situations. Society benefits if we can defuse some of these emotional pressure cooker situations before one turns tragically violent.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Carol May 11, 2018 at 9:36 pm

What worked well in the “good ole days” was the bully ended up coming in after school to either sit for an hour or so in a classroom for a week or two with others that stepped over the line, or they were put to work cleaning up the blackboards or whatever else the principal dreamed up. There was always that good old standby of writing legibly 1000 times, “I will not bully and make so-and-sos life miserable.” (Great penmanship exercise!) Generally, they had to walk home as they missed the school bus or their parents had to make arrangements for them to be picked up or take a cab. THEN when we got home we had parents to deal with and you might end up in your room for a month or on permanent house and yard duty for a specified amount of time, no allowance, no TV, but you NEVER got away with it. The problem today is that parents WILL NOT believe that their Prince(ss) Charming would ever do or say anything to make another child’s life unbearable, and teachers WILL NOT stay after school to watch over the ones who are on punishment. So, it all comes down to both parents and teachers to not like or want to be inconvenienced, so the bully gets away with it and keeps on bullying because there are no repercussions for his/her actions.

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Vincent C. Hunter May 11, 2018 at 10:45 pm

The vision outlined here is that the victims of bulling ought to be able to escape from a setting where they are intimidated — thank you; compelling argument! I would add that a monopolistic institution that entraps alienated students.who then transform themselves into bulling predators is an institution that warrants our re-examination. Were we prudent to create such an institution? … to continue to maintain it? For who’s benefit? Has this grand American experiment of compelled government education failed? What would a marketplace of educational services look like? How might liberated parents as empowered citizen/customers and teachers as expert/service providers be unleashed to transform the education of our children?

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Allan Morrie May 12, 2018 at 12:42 am

Vincent Hunter doesn’t make much sense. But Carol’s comment makes a whole lot of sense.
Bullies should be made to pay the price for their actions.
I don’t think the administrators or teachers know how to perform conflict resolutions. I was a Boy Scout leader for over 20 years, and we did not tolerate bullying. We were taught to talk to each of the boys involved separately and then all together to solve the problem. In all that time, there was only one boy who was asked to leave the Scouts because he would not change his attitude or make any compromise.
I have heard from many parents that the one who is being bullied is the one that gets into trouble instead of the bully. As Carol said, parents don’t want to do anything about the problem. Then there is the lack of dedication by8 teachers to put in extra effort to address the problem.
I believe bullies just want to be stood up to. And sometimes the bully should get a tast of their own medicine.

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William Hays May 12, 2018 at 2:18 am

I joined the 4-H in 5th grade. I was bullied/harassed/hazed (tied up, at night, in a grave yard) and never went back. I was ‘bullied’ in Jr. Hi School, but got over it, with a few well-directed kicks. I never experienced any of that in the Boy/Explorer Scouts in my seven years. Wish I could go re-join the BSA now. They got girls!

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