Las Vegas Sun

November 17, 2017

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Together, schools and parents can beat back bullying

Attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada filed a lawsuit last week alleging the Clark County School District isn’t doing enough to combat bullying.

We hope the lawsuit will focus more attention on the troubling issue of bullying. It’s a difficult subject to address. Parents are often defensive — no one wants to raise a bully or a victim. And no one wants to admit to missing the signs or doing nothing about it. So what should the community do? Here’s a look at some key questions and The Sunday’s take on them:

Is bullying really a problem?

Anyone who ever went to school knows bullying happens, and given the potential consequences, it’s a serious problem. There have been cases of violence and suicide linked to bullying, such as that of 13-year-old Hailee Lamberth, a seventh-grader at White Middle School. She committed suicide after complaining of being bullied.

How significant is the problem?

One study suggests 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 4 boys in public schools were involved 2 to 3 times a month in bullying, either as bullies or victims. And nearly 4 of 10 sixth-grade students have reported being bullied. Those numbers may be low because many students don’t report bullying for fear of retribution or being labeled a snitch. Nearly half of high school seniors failed to report bullying, research has found.

Shouldn’t students learn to deal with bullies on their own?

Bullying isn’t considered acceptable in the workplace, so why should it be tolerated in schools? And dealing with it isn’t as simple as it may seem. Researchers have found bullying to be complex, particularly with cyber bullying. Studies have shown that bullying isn’t confined to age, gender or social status. And it’s possible that a bully can become a victim and vice versa.

What should the schools do?

School District Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky has instructed a task force to study school bullying and how to improve the district’s anti-bullying program. He calls it a priority safety issue. That’s important. Schools set the tone for what’s acceptable. Teachers, staff and administrators should commit to taking a strong stance against bullying, protecting victims and working with bullies to correct their behavior. The schools should also teach all students how to recognize bullying and how to stop it. There should be no fear in reporting it.

So the schools can handle this?

No. Although schools have a responsibility to provide a safe place, it’s not their duty alone. Bullies are often formed at home, based on what they learn or experience. Parents should be counseled as well to recognize and handle bullying. Students today have no defense against bullies, who can extend their reach through text messages, emails and social media. As much as the schools can and should do, parents have a key responsibility. Unfortunately, too many parents have refused to take responsibility for their children’s behavior and push the problem onto the schools.

What’s the bottom line?

The community has to recognize that this is a serious problem. Children in school should be protected against emotional violence as well as physical. But parents need to know that in the equation to solve this problem, their role is as vital as the school’s. Only in partnership do we have any hope to address the tragic outcomes of unchecked bullying.

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