The N.C. State Board of Education decided to stop turning a blind eye to a declining school climate when it adopted the “anti-harassment/bullying policy” in July 2004.
The NCSBE informed all school districts in the state to create an effective plan “to develop and maintain policies and procedures to prevent, intervene, investigate, document and report all forms of harassment” in place by January 2005.
The edict is an effort to curb skyrocketing numbers of belligerent, disruptive, rude, and violent behavior in the school system, said NCSBE Board Chairman Howard Lee. “The bully incidences in the North Carolina high schools have been on the rise the last three to four years,” he said. “The new policy gives the school authorities a strong base to let the students know they can take decisive action on the issue.”
Not everyone agrees with the board’s action. In an editorial, Bill Fletcher, a former Republican candidate for the N.C. state superintendent race, said the new policy has taken political correctness to an “absurd level.” He said it “doesn’t address what a bully is, how bullying should be defined, or how bullying should be punished.”
Instead, Fletcher said, the policy attempts to control what students think. “Under the guise of protecting students from bullies, the board defines motivations (thoughts) that would be unacceptable to the board,” he said. “The issue in our schools is not so much ‘why’ a student bullies, but the actual behavior that constitutes bullying.”
There is evidence, however, that anti-bullying/harassment policies can work in the public school setting. An independent study on a Bully-Free School Zone Character Education Program found stricter guidelines have created a safer, calmer, and orderly environment in which all students thrive.
The analysis, provided in a December 2004 dissertation by Richard Spurling for the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at East Tennessee State University doctoral program, focused mainly on Rockman Middle School in Rockville, N.C.
The data Spurling used were collected through the School Information Management System, DPI testing information, and school discipline records.
He said Rockman Middle School has provided training and educational resources on bullying for its administration, staff, teachers, parents, and students for the past three years. At the beginning of each school year officials hand out manuals providing tips on how students can deal with bullying. The staff also stresses the school’s mission statement to “coexist peacefully, appreciate differences, solve problems, control anger and look out for one another.”
Spurling also said students, parents, and teachers are asked to sign a pledge agreeing to value student differences, treat each other with respect, be alert around less-supervised areas, and support students who are being bullied.
This is followed up with character education throughout the year, frequent reminders and role-playing bullying scenarios.
“I have seen that the strength of the anti-bullying program at Rockman Middle School is in the conviction of all involved,” Spurling said. “In understanding they have a responsibility to teach, encourage and remind students to treat each other with kindness and respect while offering appropriate modeling.”
Spurling said parents are given a checklist to help identify whether their child is being bullied and they are encouraged to contact the principal if they have any suspicions of such abuse.
The study found marked differences between the 2001-02 school year, when the school implemented the program, and 2003-04. During those years, the number of aggressive incidents among students decreased from 18 percent to 1 percent. Student suspensions based on aggressive behavior dropped more than 50 percent, and school attendance rose from 90.8 percent to 95.7 percent.
The incidence of bullied students also lowered from 44.8 percent to 24.6 percent, academic performance rose from 74.3 percent to 89.3 percent during the same years, and test scores increased by 15.3 percent, bringing the Rockman Middle School from a non-recognized school status to a School of Excellence as recognized by the N.C. State Department of Public Instruction during the same time period.
Only time will tell if the new Anti-Harassment/Bullying Policy will be a bonus or another mound of paperwork for overburdened school officials.
However, Lee is cautiously optimistic that the new directive will be an effective tool for all schools.
“It’s too early to tell if there is going to be any change,” he said. “I really hope we send a really powerful message of our intolerance to students harassing and bullying. I am hoping it will have a deep impact and that it will nip this behavior in the bud.”
Karen Welsh is a contributing editor of Carolina Journal.