A recent investigation of anti-bullying efforts in Minnesota schools revealed a major weakness across local school districts. Most schools are not tracking bullying incidents…which makes it almost impossible to gauge the effectiveness of their bullying prevention and intervention efforts.
So just how important (and expensive) is it when schools do not track and document bullying incidents?
One of the major gaps we have seen when incidents are not documented is a failure to connect the dots and allow at-risk students and individuals to fall through the cracks.
For example, Let’s take a look at the following scenario…student Bobby Jones is bullying other students in the classroom. His teacher, Mrs. Smith, reprimanded Bobby, but made no report to the central office, as she felt like this was a one-time occurrence and she could just handle it quietly. In gym class, Bobby repeatedly harasses another student when the teacher isn’t looking. The victimized student is afraid to come forward and report Bobby’s behavior because he doesn’t want to make the bullying even worse. During lunch, two cafeteria workers notice Bobby is pushing other students around, and make a note to mention this activity to the principal during their next monthly staff meeting. After school, a different teacher notices Bobby making threatening comments towards another student and immediately reports this to the principal, but what if the principal decides it’s nothing or decides to have a meeting with Bobby and documents the meeting by filling out a piece of paper and putting it in Bobby’s folder. As you can see, each individual incident may not amount to much, but Bobby’s overall behavior includes multiple red flags and some form of investigation and intervention is clearly necessary according to the OCR Dear Colleague Letter as well as state bullying laws and safe school guidelines.
Now let’s take a look at a different scenario. Student Bobby Jones is bullying students in the classroom and his teacher Mrs. Smith reprimanded Bobby and utilized the school’s web-based incident reporting option to report the incident. Mrs. Smith had the option to report the incident from work or from home and anonymously or non-anonymously. In gym class, a student was being bullied by Bobby and the student just wants the bullying to end without making matters worse, so the student went online and anonymously report Bobby for bullying him in class. When cafeteria workers witnessed Bobby pushing other students around, the cafeteria workers went online and submitted an incident report (anonymously or non-anonymously) as they have been trained to do to help ensure a safer climate for all students. After school, when a teacher notices Bobby making threatening comments towards another student, the teacher goes online and reports the incident. Now in each of the four situations above, the Anti-Bullying or Safety Team (which may include the Principal, Counselors, Legal Counsel, SROs, etc.) would have received a notification and would have easily been able to do a quick, secure and confidential search and noticed that Bobby Jones has been reported multiple times for bullying other students in multiple situations. The Safety Team could immediately investigate each situation, intervene as needed and take proactive and ongoing prevention efforts to meet OCR Dear Colleague Letter obligations, state bullying laws, safe school guidelines and most importantly build a climate where bullying is not allowed and a better learning climate is created and maintained.
Traditional incident reporting tools are not enough, incident management platforms are needed to assist school administrators gain a more holistic and comprehensive view of the risks and threats within their school learning environment. It is critical for all individuals (students, parents, teachers, staff, faculty, counselors, etc.) to understand their responsibilities for reporting and responding to incidents of bullying. All personnel should be aware of different types of suspicious activities and indicators – behaviors and warning signs (bullying, intimidation, threats, harassment, targeted violence, etc.) and should be empowered to report incidents anonymously or non-anonymously as soon as they are identified.
Once incidents have been reported it is also critical to ensure all appropriate personnel are notified and all necessary follow-up actions are documented and monitored over time. School leaders and school boards also need to ensure their policies and procedures define situational awareness – what steps should be taken in different situations – so counselors, social workers, principals, resource officers, nurses, etc. are not putting students, families, communities and schools at risk.
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