School bullying: White House takes on bullying today. Does it belong on the federal agenda?

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has sent out the word that states ought to apply soon for federal jobs money to rehire educators.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan wants schools to pay more attention to all forms of bullying.

I dropped off my 11-year-old daughter at a middle school event recently. She was with a new friend who just moved to our town. As soon as we arrived, another girl walked up to my daughter’s new pal and announced, “Suzy Q in my social studies class does not like you.”

The poor kid was startled to hear that news and protested that she didn’t even know Suzy. It was a terrible way to greet a newcomer who was probably already concerned about fitting in at a new school, so I told the carrier of the bad news that I didn’t understand why she would pass on such information and that it sounded like Suzy had the problem.

At that point, my daughter jumped in and I was able to step back and let kid justice prevail.

But I had one thought: Kids can sure be mean to one another.

The White House agrees. “We’ve got to dispel the myth that bullying is just a normal rite of passage, or an inevitable part of growing up.  It’s not,” said President Obama.  “We have an obligation to ensure that our schools are safe for all of our kids. Every single young person deserves the opportunity to learn and grow and achieve their potential, without having to worry about the constant threat of harassment.”

While I agree that bullying is a problem, do we need the White House to put it on its agenda?

Today, Washington escalated its involvement in school bullying, sending out a “Dear Colleague” letters to 15,000 schools and districts and 5,000 colleges and universities explaining their legal obligations to protect students from student-on-student racial and national origin harassment, sexual and gender-based harassment, and disability harassment. The letter provides examples of harassment and illustrates how a school should respond in each case.

The letter puts schools on notice that they have a legal obligation to stop what U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan called “a silent epidemic” during a telephone press conference just now. In the most egregious cases where higher ed institutions and k-12 schools ignore bullying, they could risk a loss of federal dollars, he warned.

The goal is to both help education institutions build on their bullying prevention programs and to wake up “the schools that have their heads in the sand,” said Duncan.

“If the federal government has to step in, it means that the problem was ignored for far too long,” said Duncan.

A federal censure would only come if adults and students allowed the bullying to continue without any checks. “There is no excuse for that,”  said Duncan.

“Among the thousands of young people who kill themselves each year, we know that many of them have been harassed by bullies and no one came to their defense. As a country, we have to confront bullies,” said White House Domestic Policy Council Director Melody Barnes, who was also on the media call.

“We think bullying should not exist,” said Duncan. “We need to work, all of us together as fast as we can, to eliminate this issue. Students cannot learn if they feel threatened, harassed or are in fear. Every adult in the building… must intervene and act when they see bullying for whatever reason. Students themselves have a an important responsibility to respect each other no matter what their differences in their backgrounds or their personal beliefs.”

82 comments Add your comment

gamom

October 26th, 2010
2:32 pm

Well Amen! So let’s address all kinds of bullying then – student on teacher, teacher on student, teacher on teacher, administration on teacher…..

k teacher

October 26th, 2010
3:10 pm

“they could risk a loss of federal dollars, he warned.” … sounds like bullying to me. Everything Washington does comes with the threat if you don’t play their way, they’re going to take your money.

What's Best for Kids?

October 26th, 2010
3:13 pm

Amen, k teacher. How about Arne actually saying that teachers can work together with community members and parents to end bullying. Instead, he threatens the schools. What a t_ _ l.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Buffy Hamilton, Kerri Richardson and Anne Arriaga, Maureen Downey. Maureen Downey said: The White House takes on bullying in a big way today. Does bullying belong on the federal agenda? http://bit.ly/9crRVN [...]

APS Teacher

October 26th, 2010
3:27 pm

Wait- does this mean he is going to protect me from administrative bullying? Yippee!

Attentive Parent

October 26th, 2010
3:35 pm

That’s not a particularly accurate summary of today’s letter and the problem is that the only way to avoid liability will be to start having GLBT training and celebrations for all students as has happened in the UK.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2010/oct/26/gay-history-lessons-bullying-schools

Interesting timing as well.

Also if a religion has observers with common ethic characteristics harassing them is said to now violate federal civil rights laws.

This will certainly be a major victory for CAIR.

Kids are mean and now it’s a federal issue.

Realist

October 26th, 2010
3:59 pm

“White House takes on bullying today. Does it belong on the federal agenda?’

Considering that the president has screwed up everything……no.

WHERE ARE THE JOBS HE PROMISED TWO YEARS AGO?

Realist

October 26th, 2010
4:01 pm

The president isn’t going to have much of anything left after next week.

T. S. Cobb

October 26th, 2010
4:01 pm

School yard fights, lunch line pushing, and clique-ish behavior among girls is not bullying (annoying yes, but not bullying.) Bullying is sustained and continuing physical, emotional, or relational mis-behavior by a one person (child, adolescent, whichever) against another where the bully is in a position of power. This is a serious and dangerous situation that schools are usually capable of dealing with AS LONG AS PARENTS GET INVOLVED. As a long time educator, I cannot tell you how many “bullies” (including 12 year old girls) have bullying parents who will scream at you and threaten you will all sorts of mayhem. Not much a school can do about that. Polite social interaction is a thing of the past with many so-called “modern parents” who see any allegation made by the school against their child as as a causus belli. And you know what? Courts will not let you expel! Thanks lawyers; here’s anothere fine mess you’ve gotten us into.

Realist

October 26th, 2010
4:02 pm

“But I had one thought: Kids can sure be mean to one another.”

Gee, ya think?

Since government has never ever ever ever solved anything like this, tell us all how government will stop bullying?

Realist

October 26th, 2010
4:04 pm

If Obama wants to stop bullies, why is he afraid to go after Iran etc?

Teacher

October 26th, 2010
4:26 pm

Before the White House takes on school bullying, it should be prepared to take on BAD PARENTS!!!

@APS Teacher,
Funny, but so true!

thankateacher

October 26th, 2010
4:40 pm

Wow, realist, you have posted 4 times about Obama. Not obsessed are you? I thought this was a blog about education. Get with the program.

Attentive Parent

October 26th, 2010
4:55 pm

Parents might want to find out who Kevin Jennings is, why he was hired by the DoEd given his background, and what the implications of his prior activities are to what types of sensitivity training will now be required for schools and districts wanting to avoid liability for a student’s statements or biases.

I’m not going to provide links but you will likely be horrified with what comes up.

Julie Worley

October 26th, 2010
4:57 pm

U.S. Government officials cannot begin to have a serious conversation about school safety or bullying (”School bullying now a top federal priority” as stated by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on August 11, 2010 at the national summit on bullying) when school employees are legally allowed to hit students with wooden paddles to deliberately inflict physical, emotional and psychological pain and suffering as punishment,(paddling, when done to a non-consenting adult constitutes sexual assault), already illegal in schools in 30 states! States such as Tennessee and North Carolina do not require parental consent or notification for students to be physically punished at school.

While the laws the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights enforces do not protect against harassment based on religious or sexual orientation, there are protections for students from religious groups that share ancestry or ethnic characteristics, as well as gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students based on gender stereotypes.

Tolerating, not adequately addressing, encouraging or ignoring harassment based on race, color, disability, sex or national origin can indicate the violation of civil rights statutes. Education Secretary Arne Duncan sought to assure students that action will be taken. “No one should ever feel harassed or unsafe in a school simply because they act or think or dress differently than others,” Duncan said. “To every student who feels threatened or harassed, for whatever reason, please know that you are not alone. Please know that there are people who love you. And please know that we will protect you.”

The United States and one lone state in Australia are the only parts of the industrialized world that allow students as young as FOUR to be hit with a wooden paddle in schools. (Corporal punishment may have been abolished in 30 states, but it’s still legal in 20 states, routinely practiced in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Texas and Tennessee.) This is one thoroughly shameful and shaming practice. It’s an egregious form of adult bullying. And we call it discipline.

For a real education of what is really happening to our children in our tax-payer funded schools simply type “A Violent Education” and “School is Not Supposed to Hurt” into an internet search engine to review recent shocking reports.

Please don’t allow our children’s fundamental human rights to be Politicized.

Please urge your U.S. Congress Rep. to Co-Sponsor/Support H.R. 5628 “Ending Physical/Corporal Punishment in Schools Act”

Realist

October 26th, 2010
4:59 pm

“Wow, realist, you have posted 4 times about Obama. Not obsessed are you? I thought this was a blog about education. Get with the program.’

You must have missed the headline, genius. It says WHITE HOUSE TAKES ON BULLYING….

Hmmmmm, how could I ever have thought to bring Obama into this discussion.

Go sell stupid somewhere else.

November

October 26th, 2010
5:00 pm

Oh c’mon folks, do you really think legislation is gonna solve an issue that’s been around since time immemorial? This is just more government interference in our lives……if we don’t do something about the meddling NOW, we’re gonna regret it in a few years and then say…..”why didn’t we recognize that meddling was the problem, not bullying”? Remember to vote responsibly on November 2nd :)

Realist

October 26th, 2010
5:01 pm

“I thought this was a blog about education.’

I hope you’re not a teacher, if so you must have terrible reading comprehension skills. The blog is about BULLYING in schools.

catlady

October 26th, 2010
5:01 pm

If the President’s action allows schools to take severe action against students and their parents who continue to bully, it will be worth it. If he wants to make a difference, he could empower courts to severely fine or jail the parents of bullies, and move the procedure along. The schools don’t “ignore” the problem, but they have been left powerless to do anything because no one backs them up, no one protects the schools from being harassed by the bully’s parents.

Of course, if schools are going to be a bully-free zone, teachers need to have recourse against bullying administrators.

Realist

October 26th, 2010
5:03 pm

“Please don’t allow our children’s fundamental human rights to be Politicized. ”

Children don’t have rights.

catlady

October 26th, 2010
5:04 pm

Mrs. Downey, any statement from Mr. Wilson yet? Did he mean “tomorrow” as in Tuesday, or “tomorrow” as to when h3ll freezes over?

Realist

October 26th, 2010
5:06 pm

catlady

That is the absolute dumbest thing I’ve read today. Bully-free zones?????? There is no way schools can prosecute parents/bullies like you suggest. If you think schools are underfunded now, just wait until parents start pulling their kids out in record numbers.

Realist

October 26th, 2010
5:07 pm

“If he wants to make a difference, he could empower courts to severely fine or jail the parents of bullies, and move the procedure along. ”

Yeah, I’d like to see Obamao try and do that.

yes they do

October 26th, 2010
5:17 pm

Yes children have rights…they are called human rights…

yes they do

October 26th, 2010
5:18 pm

Children do have rights…they are known as human rights…and in fact childrens rights should be protect more than any other group…

Maureen Downey

October 26th, 2010
5:31 pm

@Realist, I don’t think the government can stop it, especially since research suggests that most bullying does not happen in view of adults. However, I think government can make schools pay more attention to it and perhaps offer more guidance to kids about the issue. Maureen

RGB

October 26th, 2010
5:33 pm

“We think bullying should not exist,” said Duncan. And they say there are no sharp knives in the drawer at the White House.

If we could only get Prezbo to say “We think unemployment [or deficit spending, or intractable indebtedness] should not exist” then we’d be in business.

Realist

October 26th, 2010
5:38 pm

“Yes children have rights…they are called human rights…’

Looks like someone was educated in a public school.

Realist

October 26th, 2010
5:39 pm

“However, I think government can make schools pay more attention to it”

How, by bullying the school systems?

markie mark

October 26th, 2010
5:41 pm

as the victim of bullying when I was growing up, I hated that I was bullied while teachers stood 15 yards away and DID NOTHING. And this was in 1973, when most parents were still involved. It was not till my parents went to the school and raised 80 kinds of hell that they got involved. However, then the bullying started taking place walking home off school grounds. So the truth is, there is not a lot the schools/teachers can do in the real world. But I still believe if it had been “nipped in the bud” when I was the new kid at school, it would not have taken hold and would have ended earlier…..

bootney farnsworth

October 26th, 2010
5:41 pm

so the bully in chief (Obama to latinos – punish your enemies) wants to weigh in on bullying?

that man has really lost his mind.

there is nothing at all to support any concept that Federal interference would do anything at all to stop it.

now, the gov’t can say it’ll treat those little thugs like the
predators they are – instead of offering up excuse after excuse
for their behavior

bootney farnsworth

October 26th, 2010
5:43 pm

try this instead.
teach your children self defense.

nothing stops bullies faster than getting their
asses whipped.

bootney farnsworth

October 26th, 2010
5:45 pm

children do not have rights.
neither do pets, brussel sprouts, and waterfalls

markie mark

October 26th, 2010
5:46 pm

@bootney….I have seen this response on blogs before….and its crap. When 4 kids jump the new guy, self defense aint gonna hack it. I know from first hand experiance. I fought my butt off, and lost. And these days, try nailing someone with a rock, a limb, etc. You will find yourself in jv court so fast it will make you head spin. Great theory though, if you can guarantee a one on one situation.

markie mark

October 26th, 2010
5:48 pm

and the older kids get, the bullying becomes more psychological, just screwing with them all day long…you cant fight with fists that type of day after day harassment….

bootney farnsworth

October 26th, 2010
5:54 pm

markie,
sorry, but nice try.

I’m not talking about duking it out. I’m talking about learning how
to fight correctly. most fools have no idea how to throw an effective punch, how to identify targets, and how to bring somebody down hard with
very little effort.

and you become a better person who radiates a level of self confidence
that makes you less of a target.

if you live like a victim, you’ll be one.

Attentive Parent

October 26th, 2010
5:56 pm

It’s the school or the district that will be deemed the violator because of a student’s behavior.

The only defense will be to show how much sensitivity training your staff has been put through and how you now have these books and these films being taught or shown in the classroom.

It may be your 10 and 11 year old children watching the Adventures of Priscilla at school and then discussing transvestites and transsexuals with the teacher.

Because of the way the federal civil rights laws work and the need for affirmative defenses to protect against harassment claims, this expansive, unprecedented interpretation of Title VI and IX means that schools will now have to go out of their way to be seen as celebrating the GLBT culture and Islam, Hindu, Sikhs, etc.

How precisely will a school show it has fostered sensitivity about its Muslim or Jewish students?

This is a breathtakingly stunning intrusion by the feds into every classroom and every school.

What’s your recourse now?

bootney farnsworth

October 26th, 2010
5:57 pm

straight from Hollywood

learn to fight so you don’t have to fight.
if you can’t trust Ralph Macchio, who can you trust?

bootney farnsworth

October 26th, 2010
5:59 pm

@AT

I like Pricilla, its funny,. but it is NOT for middle school children and it has no value beyond being funny.

the recourse is simple. and the process begins Tuesday

rosie

October 26th, 2010
6:13 pm

Will teachers be mandated to get training on this stuff? Just one more thing we don’t have time to do. Give me a break. Duncan has his head in the sand if he thinks we don’t deal with this everyday. I’m sure people working in a school could give him some pointers. Has Mr. Duncan worked in a school?

Teacher I would like to stand up and applaud you for suggesting Obama address parents first.

RGB thanks for suggesting Obama and his staff get as concerned about unemployment.

David S

October 26th, 2010
6:24 pm

Certainly it does. Currently the White House condones the bullying of Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, China, Yemen, Somalia, Lebanon, and any other country that doesn’t immediately bend over for our empire. The White House also bullies individuals through the TSA, the CIA, the FBI, the IRS and other agencies. It also condones and orders the illegal and immoral torture of individuals without due process. The president has also said that he reserves the right to order the summary execution of american citizens abroad whenever he feels like it without due process.

The White House certainly should speak out against bullying. There is no better expert on the subject. Would I be making a racial remark if I said that this was the pot calling the kettle black???

Really amazed

October 26th, 2010
6:24 pm

It starts with the parents!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Let the teachers teach already. I truly feel for all of you teachers! Thank you for STILL doing what you do! I can’t even to think about what you go through each and everyday.

Delusional democrats

October 26th, 2010
6:24 pm

“Teacher I would like to stand up and applaud you for suggesting Obama address parents first.”

HAHAHAHAAHAHA

Al

October 26th, 2010
6:24 pm

Will the next step for Obama be to threaten loss of federal money if my son does not put up the toilet seat at school? I guess thing about Obama which drives me crazy is how he thinks (no knows) he is the smartest person in the whole wide world. He is just a two bit bully from gangland Chicago. He needs to take the train home. Quite sure the Public will buy him a one way ticket at the next election

Attentive Parent

October 26th, 2010
6:49 pm

The behavior of the children in Maureen’s story and most of the bullying descriptions here would not be subject to federal law. Have to be a member of a protected group and the behavior has to be impugning the student as a member of that group.

This is yet another attempt by the feds to dictate what gets taught in US classrooms.

Just another example of he current “coordinated transformational effort” in US education to get around that pesky problem of being established as a decentralized, federal system.

You don’t like something now-you can go to the principal, the school board or even the Sloppey Floyd buildings.

With Prof devt, curriculum, assessments, and definitions of harassment being set in DC, you’re stuck.

120

October 26th, 2010
7:01 pm

I actually had some respect for Arne Duncan but now I’m not so sure. He’s just reacting to the news headline du jour, pandering to the segment of the population that feeeels the government should protect us from everything. What’s Arne gonna do, put FBI agents in every school to keep the kiddies from being mean to each other? Gimme a break.

Jessica

October 26th, 2010
7:07 pm

Bullying is a serious issue that should be handled by LOCAL school officials and LOCAL law enforcement, but it should NOT be on the President’s agenda. Our federal government would be more effective if it would stay focused on things like the economy and national security.

another comment

October 26th, 2010
7:14 pm

I have already e-mailed the cheerleading coach this week, about the repeated bullies on the cheerleading squad. This is not the first time I have done this. These girls are suppose to set an example, but when you see the ghetto mothers you know they never will be.

Tamika

October 26th, 2010
7:15 pm

I don’t get why some classes of kids who get bullied should get special protection under the law. Is it ok to bully a child from one religion but not another? One race but not another? One orientation but not anther? How about we focus on ALL bullying?
I don’t understand why the President would be involved in a local matter. It makes no sense for federal oversight. However, I think that local schools and school boards should be paying attention. if the schools don’t get this fixed, parents will involve themselves like the dad of the CP student in Fla.

ScienceTeacher671

October 26th, 2010
8:00 pm

This is sort of like hate crimes legislation – it really shouldn’t matter why someone does wrong, just whether or not they do.

That said, there has always been bullying, and always will be. When we were children, no one knew about GLBT orientations, so there was not much bullying on that regard, other than some boys were considered “sissies”…also, I think there was more civility overall, and if you got in trouble at school or on the street, your parents would punish you worse instead of defending you and attacking whoever had corrected you. Those are the differences I see.