Almost 15,000 students suspended for bullying
Just as a new anti-bullying legislation takes effect today, statistics show cases of harassment, bullying and intimidation are on the rise in Washington’s public schools.
14,876 students were suspended in the 2008-2009 school year because of bullying and 442 were expelled, according to data from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. The number of suspensions in King County amounts to 2,231 with 89 kids expelled. Snohomish County schools suspended 1,448 students, and tossed out nine. Pierce County sent 1,744 bullies home from school for some amount of time and expelled 40. The numbers show small, steady increases during each of the past three school years. Statistics for the current year aren’t available yet.
It’s difficult to determine how many children were intimidated, harassed or bullied – either in person or online – by the almost 15,000 students.
The number of kids who got in trouble for being bullies represents about 1.5 percent of the state’s 1,038,345 public school students.
Experts who study school violence don’t think those numbers reflect the reality of bullying. They think the problem is much worse.
“To be honest I think the numbers are far larger than anybody understands partly because the more subtle forms of bullying go under the radar of people who monitor these types of things in school,” says Todd Herrenkohl, an associate professor of social work at the University of Washington.
Mike Donlin, a nationally-recognized educator on bullying issues who works with the Seattle School district, agrees. His research indicates about 20 percent of students have been bullied.
If you think back to your school days, chances are at some point you were made fun of or picked on. But the bullying your kids deal with today is far more extreme. Bullying doesn’t end when the last school bell rings for the day because students have access to computers and cell-phones.
“Kids are using text messaging and email and social networking sites as a way to intimidate other kids after school and on weekends too,” says Herrenkohl. “That’s something that’s increasingly difficult to monitor.”
And Donlin says there’s a connection between real-world bullying and cyberbullying. If kids are bullied in school, they’re probably being made fun of, or worse, after school hours too. He says that’s one weakness of Washington state’s laws against school bullying, they only apply to incidents on school grounds and during school hours.
The anti-bullying legislation taking effect today is an extension of existing school anti-harassment laws. It requires every public school to have a policy for dealing with bullying. Those plans need to go to the OSPI by mid-August. Donlin says the law will also put one person with the state in charge of school districts’ efforts to monitor and reduce bullying. In essence, that creates a “bully czar” for Washington.
While anyone can be the target of a bully, Herrenkohl says the profile of a child who becomes a bully is something parents and teachers need to pay attention to.
They’re generally “heavily influenced by other peers, often times in a very negative way,” he says. The kids have a track record of “acting out” in a bad way in certain situations, and they go on to more violent behavior if someone doesn’t intervene.
You’ve probably heard the phrase “it takes a village to raise a child.” Herrenkohl says it also takes a village to prevent a child from being bullied.