U.S. Judge Says School Can Punish “Peripheral” Participants Of Bullying

A school bully isn’t just the person who knocks the victim down but can also include members of the cheering crowd.

That was the conclusion of U.S District Judge William G. Young of Massachusetts, who recently upheld disciplinary action against two students at Hopkinton Public High School, Hopkinton, MA, who were tangentially involved in a campaign of bullying of another student.

Judge Young ruled “school officials have broad discretion to protect students from bullying, and if in the course of their investigations they sometimes draw in students at the periphery of the group, that does not mean they have violated those student’s constitutional rights.”

The case involved a vicious bullying campaign directed against a 15-year-old ninth-grade student on the school’s hockey team by other team members. 

Two students, identified as John Doe and Ben Bloggs, were on the sidelines of the bullying, participating but not as actively as the core group. They were among eight students suspended from the team after being found guilty of violating the school’s antibullying policy. Bloggs lost his position in the National Honor Society due to his disciplinary record.

Doe and Bloggs’ parents filed suit, claiming, among other things, that Doe and Bloggs’ right to free speech and assembly was violated.

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Standing Up To Rush Limbaugh

Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke told the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee that contraception is a women’s health issue.

As a result, she was subjected to a personal venomous assault by a bully, conservative talk show host  Rush Limbaugh, who used his national radio platform to call Ms. Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute.”

What happened after Limbaugh’s verbal assault is fascinating in the context of bullying.

When bystanders do nothing, a bully prevails and becomes stronger. And it is well known that bystanders often do nothing.

In this case, many bystanders chose to do something – they demanded that advertisers cease  supporting Limbaugh’s radio show. The result is that Limbaugh has lost dozens of sponsors. And he was forced to apologize – though, as Ms. Fluke notes, his apology is not very meaningful under these circumstances.

The Fluke episode lends powerful credence to the theory behind a new school anti-bullying program developed in Finland in 2007,  KiVa,  which is based upon the premise that bullies are rewarded by earning higher social status because of their bullying.  The program encourages bystanders to show that they are against bullying and to support the target.

Many school anti-bully programs show marginal results but a large scale 2011 study showed that KiVa halved the risk of bullying others and of being victimized in just one school year. Substantial decreases also emerged for other antisocial behaviors, such as vandalism, theft, and truancy, in addition to an increase in general satisfaction with school life.

Science Daily reports that an interdisciplinary team of researchers at the University of Kansas (KU) plan to bring the KiVa program to American schools. Starting as early as the 2012-13 school year, a pilot program could kick off in selected classrooms in Lawrence, Kan. If shown to be successful there, the model could expand nationally..

Sandra Fluke was right, by the way. Not only do women use contraception to prevent unwanted pregnacy, but they also use it to treat diverse medical conditions, including dysmenorrhea, endometriosis, metrorrhagia, and polycystic ovarian syndrome.

Congress to Consider School Anti-Bullying Law

Federal officials are rightly concerned about bullying in school. The problem, of course, is also pervasive in the workplace. It would not be surprising if lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgendered employees,  or employees who are perceived as thus, also are frequent targets of workplace bullying.  PGB

The Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) was reintroduced in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate last week in an effort to protect to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students in federally-funded public elementary and high schools from bullying.

The bill, which was reintroduced by U.S. Representative Jared Polis (D-CO) and Senator Al Franken (D-MN), was prompted by suicides resulting from anti-LGBT bullying of several students in recent years.

According to the bill:

“Public school students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (referred to in this Act as ‘‘LGBT’’), or are perceived to be LGBT, or who associate with LGBT people, have been and are subjected to pervasive discrimination, including harassment, bullying, intimidation, and violence, and have been deprived of equal educational opportunities, in schools in every part of the Nation.”

The SNDA is modeled after Title IX [20 USC § 1681 et seq.] of the Education Amendments of 1972 and would establish a comprehensive federal prohibition of discrimination against LGBT students in public schools. The act would also prohibit schools from discriminating against students based on actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as prohibit schools from ignoring harassment. If enacted into law, violations of the SNDA would result in the loss of federal funding and provide a legal cause of action for victims who encounter discrimination in public schools.

The legislation was first introduced in the 111th Congress and currently has 99 co-sponsors in the House and 27 co-sponsors in the Senate.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama, lawmakers, students and parents also convened last week to discuss measures to combat bullying. Several state and federal legislators have introduced similar bills aimed at preventing bullying in public schools. In a press release, the White House said:

“Estimates are that nearly one-third of all school-aged children are bullied each year – upwards of 13 million students. Students involved in bullying are more likely to have challenges in school, to abuse drugs and alcohol, and to have health and mental health issues. If we fail to address bullying we put ourselves at a disadvantage for increasing academic achievement and making sure all of our students are college and career ready.”

The Massachusetts House of Representatives in March 2010 unanimously passed a bill seeking to prevent bullying in schools and cyberspace.

According to the SNDA, there is a special need for legislation addressing bullying of  LGBT students:

“Numerous social science studies demonstrate that discrimination, including harassment, bullying, intimidation, and violence, at school has contributed to high rates of absenteeism, dropping out, adverse health consequences, and academic underachievement, among LGBT youth.

When left unchecked, discrimination, including harassment, bullying, intimidation, and violence, in schools based on sexual orientation or gender identity can lead, and has led, to life-threatening violence and to suicide.”