Throughout the country, the “bullying epidemic” has gone viral. Schools hold seminars on it and districts, including Racine Unified, have policies to address bullying.
But at least one Republican state lawmaker is saying seminars and policies don’t go far enough, and he has proposed a law where teachers can be fined $200 for not reporting bullying.
That makes some sense for a case where a kid is pushed repeatedly right in front of a teacher and the teacher walks away, or if a teacher intercepts derogatory notes directed at another student and crumples them up without action.
Unfortunately, most bullying is not that obvious. It’s done away from teachers, and far more often on smartphones or computers, particularly with teens and tweens.
We heard about it recently in highly publicized Steubenville, Ohio, where two girls, ages 15 and 16, where charged with sending threats through Twitter to the girl who had been raped by two football players.
Similarly in Connecticut, two 13-year-olds who were allegedly sexually assaulted by football players were blamed through Twitter for “ruining the lives” of the players.
Those are two very severe bullying cases, but almost certainly there are cases just as serious here that we don’t hear about and that don’t generate national attention.
According to Unified School District’s bullying policy, bullying includes everything from physical shoving or kicking someone to teasing, rumors and name-calling. It also includes any bullying that takes place on school equipment, through cyber-bullying. The policy says it is students’ and staff’s responsibility to report acts of bullying that occur at school or at school-sponsored activities. Upon receipt of the complaint, the principal or a designee will conduct an investigation.
The law proposed by state Rep. Garey Bies, R-Sister Bay, would put some teeth behind that law by imposing a fine. But the law assumes that the teacher knows about the bullying, and that may not be the case. So instead of spending time investigating bullying, this law will have administrators investigating teachers to try to determine what they knew.
Also, Wisconsin Association of School Boards spokesman Dan Rossmiller said he fears the proposal could lead to teachers over-identifying student behavior as bullying due to fears of being penalized, the State Journal reported.
If a teacher definitively knows about a case of repeated harassment and stands by despite knowing about the school’s policy, then that teacher deserves more than a $200 fine. Unfortunately, the teachers don’t always know because it often doesn’t happen on their watches.
In order to draw attention to some of the bullying in our own community, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center recently held a rally where kids and adults pledged not to bully each other. It’s hard to say how long these pledges will last for some who go back to their old ways quickly, but these types of pledges give us all a chance to think about our actions.
Getting the community involved is the right thing to do since teachers alone are not all-knowing, as much as we want our kids to think that. But $200 bullying fines only end up bullying teachers.