As the tragic story of Phoebe Prince ricochets around the national news media, much of the conjecture rests on what school officials knew or should have known of the bullying that led to her suicide and whether South Hadley, Mass., school administrators should lose their jobs.
What I’m dying to know more about is what, if any, anti-bullying policies the school system had in place and whether they were taken seriously. (From what I’ve read, I’d lay odds the answer to question 2, anyway, was “no.”) Such policies and their consistent enforcement are centrally important because I suspect bullying always gets ugliest in a place where students implicitly believe they can get away with it.
I’m no expert. But as a teacher and parent, some things seem to be common sense. All students must be treated with respect. And when they’re not, those doing the disrespecting must be forced to examine their actions, to at minimum formally apologize to the offended student for them, and, if those actions are repeated, to be disciplined, firmly and consistently. Bystanders, too, need to be brought into the conversation so they come to realize that their silence always makes them complicit by emboldening the bullies. (It takes a disinterested village to enable bullying and an engaged one to end it.)
To me, it doesn’t take a psychology PhD. to work this out, yet, from what I’ve read and heard, it may take educators with more sensitivity than those running the South Hadley schools.
Let’s make you the new principal of a local high school. How would you try to contain bullying before it starts? And what steps would you take to stop it once it started?