Why teach­ers aren’t able to stop bias-based bul­ly­ing as law­mak­ers want

Manteca Bulletin - - Perspective - SERIASHIA J. CHATTERS Penn­syl­va­nia State Univer­sity

State and lo­cal law­mak­ers have put poli­cies in place to ad­dress and pre­vent bul­ly­ing. Many schools too have im­ple­mented in­ter­ven­tions to im­prove school cli­mate to re­duce bul­ly­ing be­hav­iors.

De­spite these ef­forts, in my re­search and ex­pe­ri­ences in schools as a coun­selor ed­u­ca­tor and school coun­selor, I have found bul­ly­ing based on bias con­tin­ues to be an is­sue in school set­tings.

“Bias-based” or “iden­tity-based” bul­ly­ing, de­fined as stu­dents be­ing bul­lied specif­i­cally based on their race, na­tion­al­ity, gen­der, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, dis­abil­ity, re­li­gion, so­cioe­co­nomic sta­tus or weight, is far more dif­fi­cult to rec­og­nize or ad­dress when com­pared to tra­di­tional forms of bul­ly­ing.

Teach­ers too may fail to no­tice and ad­dress such be­hav­iors and, at times, may even be in­volved in them. Re­sponse to bul­ly­ing Bias-based bul­ly­ing in­ci­dents in­volve ex­plicit and im­plicit forms of racism, sex­ism and other forms of prej­u­dice or dis­crim­i­na­tion. They are not only harm­ful emo­tion­ally, so­cially and psy­cho­log­i­cally to stu­dents, but are also a vi­o­la­tion of a stu­dent’s civil rights.

The U.S. De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion’s Of­fice of Civil Rights urges schools to be vig­i­lant in the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and pre­ven­tion of bias-based bul­ly­ing and pro­vides guid­ance on spe­cific laws that pro­hibit bias based ha­rass­ment such as Ti­tle IX, a fed­eral law, that pro­hibits dis­crim­i­na­tion on the ba­sis of gen­der or sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, Section 504 or Ti­tle II, which pro­tects in­di­vid­u­als with dis­abil­i­ties, and Ti­tle IV, which pro­tects in­di­vid­u­als from ha­rass­ment based on re­li­gion, eth­nic­ity or shared an­ces­try.

De­spite this pro­tec­tion, how­ever, bias-based bul­ly­ing be­hav­iors per­sist and can go un­no­ticed, or even be en­dorsed, by teach­ers in the field.

For ex­am­ple, a re­cent study in­ves­ti­gated phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion teach­ers fail­ing to re­spond to bul­ly­ing be­hav­iors against stu­dents be­ing tar­geted due to their weight. Stud­ies have also high­lighted teach­ers fail­ing to re­spond to stu­dents be­ing bul­lied due to their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion.

Fail­ure to rec­og­nize bias-based bul­ly­ing be­hav­iors can lead to tragic con­se­quences.

Ryan Hal­li­gan, a 13-year-old stu­dent who com­mit­ted sui­cide in Oc­to­ber 7, 2003, was tar­geted pri­mar­ily with ho­mo­pho­bic slurs. A more re­cent case was that of Kennedy LeRoy, a teen who com­mit­ted sui­cide in June 2015 after he was bul­lied partly due to hav­ing Asperger’s syn­drome. Bul­ly­ing by teach­ers Worse still, some stu­dents re­port be­ing vic­tim­ized not just by their peers but by their teach­ers as well.

In a study ti­tled The Youth Voice Project pub­lished by my col­leagues, Charisse Nixon and Stan Davis, stu­dents in spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion tes­ti­fied that their teach­ers were more abu­sive to­ward them than to­ward their peers in gen­eral ed.

Al­though this in­for­ma­tion may seem sur­pris­ing, teacher in­volve­ment in bul­ly­ing stu­dents ex­tends be­yond spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion set­tings to gen­eral and al­ter­na­tive ed­u­ca­tion set­tings.

A 2011 study, for ex­am­ple, by re­searchers Chris­tine Zer­illo and Karen F. Oster­man in­di­cates that, al­though teach­ers were aware of col­leagues who bully stu­dents, they felt more ac­count­able to re­port peer bul­ly­ing.

When teach­ers think they are out­siders

Al­though most schools are pre­par­ing ed­u­ca­tors and staff to rec­og­nize and re­spond to bul­ly­ing, be­hav­iors that are based on bias are of­ten over­looked.

The re­sults of a study I con­ducted in­di­cated that ed­u­ca­tors may lack the knowl­edge of and skills to re­spond to bias-based bul­ly­ing.

I in­ves­ti­gated per­cep­tions of un­der­grad­u­ate stu­dents in teacher ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams. I asked par­tic­i­pants about their per­cep­tions of their role when faced with a sit­u­a­tion in­volv­ing bias based bul­ly­ing.

Ap­prox­i­mately 50 per­cent of par­tic­i­pants con­sid­ered them­selves to be out­siders or not in­volved in sit­u­a­tions in­volv­ing bias-based bul­ly­ing. Ad­di­tion­ally, par­tic­i­pants be­lieved that they lacked the knowl­edge and skills to re­spond to sit­u­a­tions in­volv­ing bul­ly­ing and prej­u­dice.

There was one en­cour­ag­ing find­ing, how­ever. After par­tic­i­pat­ing in a full-day work­shop that in­cluded bul­ly­ing pre­ven­tion and prej­u­dice re­duc­tion, par­tic­i­pants re­ported sig­nif­i­cant changes in at­ti­tude. Their knowl­edge and skills to re­spond to sit­u­a­tions in­volv­ing bul­ly­ing and prej­u­dice im­proved. And they also changed how they per­ceived their role – from con­sid­er­ing them­selves to be out­siders (57 per­cent pre-work­shop, 20 per­cent post-work­shop) to de­fend­ers of vic­tims of bias based bul­ly­ing (20 per­cent pre-work­shop; 78 per­cent post-work­shop). Train­ing teach­ers So how can schools re­spond to bias-based bul­ly­ing?

School ad­min­is­tra­tors can in­clude ques­tions re­gard­ing bias-based bul­ly­ing on their school en­vi­ron­ment, as­sess­ments and eval­u­a­tions. This can help schools gain a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of what forms of bias-based bul­ly­ing are most com­mon in their schools. Train­ing teach­ers to rec­og­nize and re­spond to bias-based bul­ly­ing could also im­prove the like­li­hood that they would in­ter­vene when they saw bul­ly­ing.

These ini­tia­tives can be ef­fec­tive when im­ple­mented as a part of an in­ter­ven­tion that in­cludes the whole school, par­ents and the com­mu­nity.

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