Letter to the Editor: Don’t be mean – harassment and student safety
I was pleased to read that Plumas County Office of Education now has a system that allows students to anonymously report abusive incidents. But anonymous reporting will not help if support is weak. Do teachers and staff have the authority to enforce reasonable standards of behavior?
I first worried about this over twenty years ago, as a school bus driver for PUSD. We were told never to touch the kids, but on my first day learning a route, the driver had to physically remove a child from the driver’s seat. It seemed he had to risk his job to do the right thing.
I hoped that was a temporary issue, but now I think it has persisted. In the last year, I have heard several dismaying things: a parent convinced the school is unresponsive to harassment of her children; teachers feeling guilty after having to physically keep one student from hurting another; teenagers complaining of too little discipline in school.
Today, digital life looms large in the worldview of the young. Teachers and administrators swim upstream against the common cruelty of social media. Making lists of prohibited slurs, but minimizing disciplinary action, is a posture designed to hold up in litigation rather than being actually effective.
Teachers need to be confident that the system supports them in decisively protecting children from physical harm. At the verbal level, a simple principle of “don’t be mean” is more accessible to young minds than lists of officially wrong insults, and easier to justify to parents.
Studies consistently show that school shootings are often revenge by students who were mistreated by peers and not defended by authorities. If need be, proportionate discipline can be defended in court as due diligence.