That bullying obstructs learning, destabilizes victims and endangers young lives – and that roughly 1/3 of high school students are bullied – is known all too well by most parents. Less widely known: Connecticut’s 2008 statute, “An Act Concerning School Learning Environment”, required every school district to develop and implement both a bullying policy and a prevention strategy, that the State Dept. of Education (SDE) develop model policies and that school personnel be trained in bullying prevention.
But in 2010 the SDE Commissioner testified that much remained to be done within many school districts to comply with the new law and ensure an emotionally safe climate for all children. Unfortunately, implementing a law successfully is often far more difficult than enacting it. While some schools have excellent anti-bullying programs and processes, budget constraints or other factors impede implementation in many schools. Appleseed’s project aspires to showcase model policies, strategies and training procedures that appear to mitigate bullying during the school day.
Finding What Works in Districts to Reduce Bullying
In partnership with the Governor’s Prevention Partnership, Connecticut Appleseed recruited a team of more than 20 pro bono attorneys from Travelers Corporation to interview officials and teachers from a representative sample of 11 school districts to help accelerate district compliance with the 2008 statute. During 2011 this teamconducted and wrote up approximately 60 interviews with administrators, principals, teachers, guidance counselors and psychologists.
Extraordinary School District Cooperation
While school officials are occasionally reluctant to assume responsibilities beyond their core educational role, we were able to secure tremendous cooperation from the following 11 districts in discussing the effectiveness of bullying policies and strategies that they had adopted:
- Regional School District 13
- Rocky Hill
- West Hartford
Our team of interviews found that relatively safer schools have programmed a sensitivity to bullying right into their school culture, while simultaneously empowering each child to stand up for what is right. Techniques with myriad names – “RAMS” in Waterbury, “CLIMB” in Simsbury, “Make Your Day” in Stratford and “Best Buddies” in Regional School District 13 – strive to ensure the mutual respect that lies at the heart of a positive school climate.
After bullying has occurred, Rocky Hill, Bridgeport, West Hartford, Hartford and Hamden all report that they use some form of peer mediation. Unsurprisingly, because bullying often takes place during less structured time periods and where there is less supervision than in classrooms, we also found that involving all school personnel – from bus drivers and cafeteria staff to custodians – helps to foster a positive school climate.
Report Distributed in Early 2012
The Governor’s Prevention Partnership played a pivotal role in drafting the research interviews and training Travelers’ volunteer attorneys. The “Best Practices” and related bullying deterrents that the interviews surfaced will assist schools and districts statewide in accepting the increased responsibility for protecting children that was first prescribed by the 2008 statute – and which was then expanded by an additional statute in 2011 to address cyber-bullying.
After Travelers generously stepped forward to cover our report’s printing costs. Connecticut Appleseed Board member Michael D’Agostino, who chairs Hamden’s Board of Education, distributed our findings with a cover letter to every school board chair or member, and every superintendent, principal and legislator in the state.