School Bullying: Do New Guidelines Do Enough?
A new pamphlet by the National School Boards Association spells out guidelines school officials should use to combat bullying, an issue many St. Louis-area schools have dealt with.
New guidelines from the National School Boards Association, released this week, spell out ways school officials should address the issue of bullying in their classrooms, while protecting the First Amendment rights of students.
The guidelines (PDF) start with the free speech issue: "The fact that some speech deeply upsets, offends or angers some citizens is not a justification for banning or limiting the speech....In general, a listener is free to avoid hateful speech, to turn away, and, of course, to respond and to challenge it. But listeners may not insist that government silence the speech."
(Please see the PDF file attached to this article for more details.)
An article in Education Week notes that "the new guidelines were produced by the American Jewish Committee and the Religious Freedom Education Project/First Amendment Center...and they say that schools must not censor students’ speech purely out of the fear of potential bullying."
The article characterizes the guidelines by noting:
“students should be able to attend school without being—or even reasonably feeling—threatened by others. School officials should be mindful that abusive peer conduct may deny students full access to an education, even when it is not on a basis prohibited by law.”
But in general, unless a student exercising his or her right to free speech or expression is creating a substantial disruption of the school environment, it should not be squelched.
Schools in the St. Louis and St. Charles County areas that have dealt with the issue include Webster Groves, where a Hixson Middle School student expressed fears about attending school. Students at Nipher Middle in Kirkwood led an awareness campaign on the issue.
Local lawmakers have introduced legislation on the subject in the Missouri Legislature. The Hazelwood School District HSD contracted with Shakespeare Festival Saint Louis to provide students performance assemblies and workshops on bullying. Students at Selvidge Middle School in Ballwin produced an anti-bullying video to dramatize the issue for classmates.
Do schools do enough to address the issue? Is there a reasonable line between free speech and bullying? Were you bullied in school and how did you handle it?