Is Bullying a Violation of Our Childrens Civil Rights?

“If a school district or school doesn’t address harassment or bullying, it’s giving a wink or a nod and sending the message that that behavior’s OK . . . anytime that you send a signal that the behavior’s OK it will escalate.”

from the video “Bullied: A Student, a School and a Case That Made History” a Teaching Tolerance documentary

In the above documentary the subject of bullying is viewed through the lens of violating civil rights.  While this elevates the age-old problem to a much higher level of debate from both a legislative as well as legal standpoint, it does not lose sight of the fact that the ramifications of bullying have a very real and lasting impact on its victims.  An impact which reverberates through to the parents and ultimately society as a whole including the bullies themselves.

This collective consequence was illustrated in my October 4th, 2010 post (Bullying in School Whether Physical or Emotional Start’s with the Bully’s Parents) in which I referenced studies that have shown that those who do the bullying are the ones who ultimately pay the greatest price in that “one out of four elementary school bullies have a criminal record by the time they’re 30.”

While data referenced in the same article reveal that 42% of all children responding to a 2004 poll admitted to bullying other kids at least “once in a while,” generally speaking the more egregious acts that escalate beyond simple name calling or the occasional pushing match are likely perpetrated by a much smaller, yet highly disruptive percentage.

This raises a simple yet far reaching question in terms of its broader implications which asks when do the rights of a single, disruptive student supersede those of the classroom or collective student body?

For example, the above picture show bite marks on the shoulder of a student, who was attacked by a girl in her kindergarten class in the town of Buckingham, Quebec.  That’s right . . . kindergarten class.  The 5 year old bully, whose bite was (and still is) visible 10 days after the incident occurred, has been a problem since pre-K, and is reflective of an escalating pattern of poor behavior that according to many experts will continue to get worse unless definitive action is taken today.  But upon whose shoulders does the responsibility for taking said action fall upon?

As presented in the Teaching Tolerance documentary, parents often feel helpless and even to a certain degree many believe that they have somehow failed their children.  The mother of the little girl who was bitten by her classmate expressed these very sentiments as she shared her reaction each time she sees the painfully visible scar on her daughter’s arm; “Everyday is a constant reminder (during bath time or getting her dressed) that she was at school and she was being hurt, was scared .. was all alone ..  and because she tried to be brave, she didn’t speak up ..and as a consequence  no one came to her rescue.  I feel like I’ve failed her y’know?”

Even though the mother has had discussions with both the teacher and principal about the incident, it has done little to assuage her concerns as she pensively asks “why do I still feel scared to send her to school?”

This general feeling of apprehension and frustration regarding the actions of this one little girl is reflective of what most parents whose children attend kindergarten at the Buckingham elementary school are feeling, as stories of past misbehavior continue to come to light.  Unfortunately, the greater problem beyond the actual bullying events have many of the children focusing more on avoiding the bully than learning and enjoying their early school experience.

So if parents believe that they have limited options working within the framework of particular school’s policy, what more should our schools be doing to create a safe, happy and productive environment?

In the case of the Buckingham biting incident as we will call it, the school did remove the student in question from the general populace during noon hours, having her eat her lunch in the principal’s office.  They also sent a letter home to the girl’s mother.  Unfortunately, the mother who is a drug addled adult dependent on social assistance, having had 3 children with 3 different fathers, is hardly a pillar of parental consciousness and involvement.  In short, there is not likely to be any meaningful progress made relative to parental intervention.

Outside of temporary removal and letters of warning to a disinterested parent, is there more that the school can do?

Identifying what that “more” actually is beyond the introduction of an official anti-bullying policy (which like most institutions, the Buckingham school already has in place), may not be an optional undertaking.  As reflected in a recent U.S. Department of education letter which takes the position that “bullying is a matter of civil rights,” it is not outside of the realms of possibility that schools might one day be held legally responsible for a problem that originates in the child’s home as opposed to on the playground.

According to the DOE, who reframed the issue of bullying in schools as one of institutional responsibility—one that can get schools into serious legal trouble if ignored, also states that “some student misconduct that falls under a school’s anti-bullying policy may trigger responsibilities under one or more of the federal anti-discrimination laws.”

Viewing bullying, especially as it relates to someone’s race, color, national origin, sex, or disability or, any basis which creates a hostile environment, through a lens of violating one’s civil rights, places a greater burden upon school administrators to take decisive action.  The question then becomes, what tools has legislation equipped our schools with to take the appropriate expanded action commensurate with a civil rights or liberties violation versus what to now has been considered a behavioral conduct problem?

Like David facing Goliath with a sling shot, has the focus in addressing the bullying question been erroneously placed on a single point of attack versus taking a much broader, collaborative view which also includes legislators and parents?  In essence, have we tasked our schools with solving a problem that is tantamount to their being put in between a rock and a hard place?

In December we will be airing a Town Hall Meeting on the subject of bullying from an actual school, which will be simultaneously broadcast to both a live studio audience as well as over the Blog Talk Radio Network.  Stay tuned for details regarding date and time.

PI Media Bite:


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