Bullying has been a problem in America's schools since the first schoolhouses opened in New England nearly half a millennium ago. The classic bully story involves a bigger, stronger, and often older student threatening to beat up a smaller, weaker student for his lunch money. But these days, you don't have to be smaller to get bullied in school. In fact, you don't even have to be a student.
Student-on-teacher bullying is becoming more common in our schools. An incident that occurred in upstate New York this year brought the problem into sharper focus. Karen Klein, a 68-year-old school bus monitor in Greece, New York, was bullied by some students on her bus. The students made fun of Klein's weight, poked her with a textbook, used several obscenities, and threatened to urinate in front of her house. The teenagers also told Klein, whose son killed himself ten years ago, that her family "killed themselves because they don't want to be near (her)." A student on the bus recorded the incident on his cell phone and the video soon went viral.
"This is not your grandfather's or even your father's school environment," says attorney Martin Sweet of legal information website THELAW.TV . "Children are much bolder these days and respect for elders is nonexistent in many places."
One state began stepping up to protect teachers and school staff from bullying. Earlier this month, North Carolina passed legislation that makes posting "intimidating or tormenting statements" about teachers online a misdemeanor. A student could be fined up to $1,000 for posting such a statement on Twitter or Facebook. The move came after the state's Classroom Teachers Association lobbied lawmakers for some protection.
"It remains to be seen whether legislation will prevent any bullying," says Sweet. "It would, at least, provide some recourse for bullying victims."
One partial drawback to the North Carolina legislation is that the law only covers cyberbullying involving students and school staff. It does not cover the types of physical or verbal bullying seen in the Karen Klein incident or another case that was just settled in New York City. The city recently gave a former Brooklyn high school teacher a $450,000 settlement after she claimed her students sexually harassed and verbally abused her. Theresa Reel, 52, says students touched her breasts and wrote abusive things about her on a classroom desk. Reel claims she reported the abuse to her principal, who told her she was just trying to make the school look bad.
Reel ended up with financial compensation for the emotional pain she claims to have endured. So, too, did Klein, but from a different source. She didn't have to sue anyone. The general public came to Klein's rescue. Since the video of her being bullied on the bus went viral, she has received more than $700,000 in donations through an independent fundraising website. Klein plans to use that money to take a long vacation and to help with her retirement.
According to the Schools of Thought blog, the following advice is helpful if you are dealing with a bully or bullying situation as a teacher, school administrators, and school workers.
- Teachers need to be diligent about documentation and communication with parents and children when bullying occurs.
- Rather than "writing a student up" or "reporting to the principal," suggest a clear, respectful reaction by first recognizing students' actions are inappropriate and shocking. Do not appear to be weakened or negatively affected.
- Don't expect students to agree or apologize; but understand the student recognize adults who stand their ground. THELAW.TV
- As much as schools have consequences by enforcing counseling and disciplinary action when students bully, parents need to take on the responsibility of teaching their children that bullying anyone is abuse.