Severe bullying can drive children to commit suicide. It also can make them so desperate to escape that they drop out of school. Even when they remain in class, victims of bullying often don't do well academically.
Bullying may well be the single type of behavior most disruptive of the education process. The courts have held teachers and school officials are well within their rights to crack down on anyone involved in disruptive behavior - meaning that bullies are fair game for discipline-minded educators.
The problem is clearly widespread. Indeed, as recently reported by the Detroit Free Press, the 2010-11 school year saw more than 34,000 documented cases of bullying in Michigan schools.
So why do we hear of so few cases in which students who make life miserable for others get what they deserve - harsh punishment? There are a variety of reasons for that, some acceptable and some not.
Officials in Michigan are working to submit anti-bullying policies that are required by public and charter school districts statewide.
Gov. Rick Snyder in December signed legislation giving schools six months to put such policies into place. Many school districts already had anti-bullying policies, but after the law passed, all districts had to detail what steps would be taken to formally address bullying in the school and discourage it. The law is known as "Matt's Safe School Law."
But, as many critics point out, having a school policy, or even a state law, is only the beginning. What the policies say is one thing. What the schools actively do, and the tools they give to their teachers and administrators to deal with bullying are the crucial ingredients.
Bullying puts educators in a difficult position. Are they to come down hard because a student complains someone said something politically incorrect to him? At what point does the kind of taunting many children engage in cross the line between objectionable behavior and dangerous bullying?
Most teachers probably have enough common sense to know the difference - but existing laws make it difficult for them to do anything unless blatant, public physical assault is witnessed.
The new legislation will help some young victims of bullying. Clearly, however, educators and legislators need to develop tough, consistent policies and better methods of cracking down on the perpetrators.
- Marquette Mining Journal