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Last month, the Education Department made it clear to schools that they are going to have to take more responsibility to curb bullying and hate speech, even to the point of monitoring students’ social networking activities in and out of school. reported that the letter says “federal officials have reinterpreted the civil-rights laws that require school principals to curb physical bullying, as well as racist and sexist speech, that take place within school boundaries. Under the new interpretation, principals and their schools are legally liable if they fail to curb “harassment” of students, even if it takes place outside the school, on Facebook or in private conversation among a few youths.”

Liberal groups have championed the idea while conservatives and libertarians have reacted in anger at what they perceive to be a violation of free speech. Regardless of which side of the fence you’re on the question remains; who’s going to pay for this and will it work?  The amount of time it would take for the administration to keep tabs on the student body of even a moderately sized school would be significant.

If it only took 5 minutes a week to “follow” a student’s online activities, it would require a new 40 hour position be added for every 500 students in a school. And, if you were only following some students as opposed to all of them, would that constitute profiling or other potentially litigious situations?

Facebook is on board and has created new features that make it easier for individuals who are being harassed to let someone know. The problem with that, as I blogged last week, is that often students don’t report for a variety of reasons and it’s not like reporting is very difficult to do currently.  

The letter, written by Russlynn Ali, goes on to say that “The school may need to provide training or other interventions not only for the perpetrators, but also for the larger school community, to ensure that all students, their families, and school staff can recognize harassment if it recurs and know how to respond… [and] provide additional services to the student who was harassed in order to address the effects of the harassment,”

I like the idea of training and education but I’d really like to know more about how that training is going to work and again, who’s going to pay for this community wide effort. Also, what if families choose not to attend school-sponsored workshops to deal with these important issues?

There’s very little debate about the negative effects of bullying and harassment in school. But, how we choose to deal with these issues will have a major impact on the outcomes we’re able to obtain. I agree we need education, but all that’s being discussed is education after the fact. Bullying, harassment and teasing have, unfortunately, been a significant and almost accepted part of growing up in this country and around the world. Changing the way we treat each other must be systemic, not episodic.  

Counselors and coaches must get involved by creating classes, workshops and online resources that will help make social skills education a class within the curriculum, the same way that religion classes are in private schools.  Coaches, especially, need to help the educational community embrace the idea that we represent an untapped resource for helping them address these problems going forward.

Bullying and harassment are important issues that must be addressed. But, throwing unfunded mandates at a cash-strapped public school system will do little more than create a larger divide between what needs to be done, and what schools are capable of doing.  Thanks for your time and consideration and your comments are always appreciated. Namaste

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