No parent wants to have to explain to their child why they were teased or bullied for the way they look, talk, or how hard they work in school.
But those conversations happen every day. As parents, there’s perhaps nothing more heartbreaking than to hear your child tell you that a classmate shoved your son or daughter or stole their lunch money.
More than 1 in 5 students in the U.S. report being bullied, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, with 33 percent saying they were bullied at least once or twice a month during the school year.
Students who are bullied are at increased risk for poor school adjustment, sleep difficulties, anxiety and depression, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With social media so prevalent, starting rumors about a classmate or mocking them is so much easier. All it takes is 280 characters on Twitter to humiliate someone.
It’s with this in mind we’re appreciative that Sen. Michael Hough (R-Frederick and Carroll) has again introduced a bill in the Maryland General Assembly to address bullying.
Hough’s bill would hold bullies accountable and have them follow a four-step approach that includes apologizing, offering restitution if anything was damaged or stolen, attending a conference, and as a last resort, modifying their schedule so they are not in the same classroom as the student who was bullied.
Hough says he got the idea after legislation passed recently to create a statewide process for these restorative programs for youth criminal offenders. But Hough saw how such an approach could apply to bullying. So he looked to Pennsylvania, which has a similar law in place, for guidance.
And while Hough’s bill will not end bullying, we see the ideas suggested by the senator as having some merit. Restorative justice can certainly be one approach used in addressing bullying. Our question has more to do with whether making this process a law is the right way to go.
At a recent hearing in Annapolis, some senators worried the bill “lacked teeth” and wondered how the implementation would be enforced in each school district. We reluctantly agree, especially if school boards already have their own anti-bullying plan in place.
Frederick County Public Schools, for instance, has been working to implement restorative practices at each school, including training going on this year.
FCPS has plenty of programs and resources available to help children who are bullied. That includes training for staff, curriculum on bullying and harassment, and ways to report bullying either by going directly to a teacher or other staff member or through an online form, which can be found here: www.fcps.org/academics/stop-bullying.
Hough added to his argument that it would be disingenuous for legislators to focus so much of their attention this year on the Kirwan Commission and how to implement proposals related to education without focusing on the children’s safety.
Hough’s idea is not the perfect solution, though no single idea is when it comes to combating this multifaceted problem. But we see what he’s suggesting as an important tool in a school system’s toolbox in addressing bullying, particularly those who are in trouble for the first time.
“I just want to make sure there are safety measures,” Hough said.
We agree. Not every good idea has to be legislated. We support Hough’s idea and hope school boards across the state embrace it, even if it doesn’t become law.