Zero-tolerance policies aimed at school bullies

-- The Plain Dealer, Cleveland - April 21

Posted: Thursday, April 26, 2001

The latest round of school shootings has revealed another culprit for school violence: bullies.

Earlier incidents spurred interest in gun control and parental responsibility, but the most recent have focused attention on those who teased and taunted the youth who ultimately took revenge with a firearm.

Legislators in Colorado, Washington and Oregon are considering measures aimed at reducing intimidation and harassment in school hallways. Massachusetts' Gov. Paul Cellucci wants to spend $1 million in federal funds to expand schools' anti-bullying programs. And an Orange County, Calif., school district recently added bullying to the list of high-profile offenses that earn a ''zero-tolerance'' response.

With these initiatives come stunning statistics. Roughly 8 percent of urban junior and senior high school students say they miss one day of school each month because they are afraid to go to class. Nearly 70 percent of 12- to 15-year-olds call teasing and bullying a big problem, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll.

Clearly, parents, children and teachers all have cause for concern. Just as clearly, legislation alone cannot change campus culture. Individual engagement -- that is, adult supervision of lunchrooms and living rooms, plus lots of lessons about proper behavior -- represents the most crucial step toward making schools feel more safe.

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