NYSUT topic spurred by growing number of youth suicides
New York State United Teachers topic at a recent conference, 21st Century Bullying and its Implications on Schools, was spurred by a growing number of school-age youth suicides, including four from Schenectady High School in one year, where bullying is suspected of playing a role.
A major concern in today's bullying arena, cyberbullying means harming someone through the use of instant messaging, chat rooms, polling sites, text messages, blogs, e-mails, virtual worlds and social networks.
Because it's technology, there is always a new tool. Consider "happy slapping" — one person physically or verbally provoking an innocent bystander while a third party videotapes the act on a cell phone, then uploads and shares it with the masses.
Then there's "Bluetooth bullying," where someone sends a derogatory cell phone message to everyone within a certain vicinity. "You're not quite sure if it's sent from the person standing next to you or the person down the hall or across the street," said Sharoff.
Why? Reasons range from "revenge" to "fun" or the victim "deserved it," Sharoff said. Some bullies claim they were just messing around, or "it was only text."
Middle-level students especially often see "no connection between actions and consequences," Sharoff said. At this age, she said, the brain is not developed enough to make those connections.
Efforts to prevent and stem bullying are surfacing nationwide as leaders from school districts, teacher unions, communities and School-Related Professionals unite to take on the problems.
Kevin Jennings, Director of the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools and founder of GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, has this to say about maintaining safe schools:
"Students can't learn if they don't feel safe. Period. End of story," said Kevin Jennings, director of the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools.
A safe school used to be defined as one where no one stabbed anyone or sold heroin, said Jennings, a former teacher and founder of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.
Uncivil behavior, however, forces kids to skip school, drop out or become violent. He addressed 270 teachers, school board members and administrators at an Albany conference on bullying last month.
"Most of the ice in an iceberg is below the water... It's the everyday behaviors that drive kids out of school," he said.
Jennings said the goal of the U.S. Department of Education is to create "school climate standards" as one of the primary school standards.
These will be measured much like reading and math under the department's goal of building data, he explained. Students, teachers, staff and family will complete surveys to help determine what that climate is.
Emotional safety will be weighed along with physical safety — ranging from a student feeling safe enough to risk a wrong answer, or safe enough not to be taunted in the hall or bathroom.
Author's Note: Jennings, who continues to be a target of probes and attacks by those who think he has a 'hidden homosexual agenda', chose to accept the Education Czar position because of Massachusetts sixth-grader Carl Joseph Walker Hoover who hanged himself with an electrical cord because of repeated bullying.
Schenectady High School is identified by New York State Education Department as 'persistently dangerous'. Schools are designated 'persistently dangerous' if they have two successive years of serious incidents that meet or exceed established criteria.