WASHINGTON - A workshop in D.C. was held Thursday night aimed at helping victims of bullying and their families. The goal was to educate families about what bullying is and what can be done about it in the District.
It was an interesting meeting because the message lawyers and experts gave might not be what you expect. They said everyone, including victims and their families, should take a deep breath and try to deescalate the situation, and the goal should always be to help everyone involved -- even the bullies themselves.
An emotional grandmother took the stage and shared the nightmarish situation her grandson endured when he was bullied at a D.C. middle school.
“He was assaulted and they broke his nose,” she said. “It took a toll on us. We started getting headaches, we couldnt sleep at night, we saw a mood change in my grandson. He was very edgy.”
She said the bullying was ongoing and the family got little or no answers from the school as to what their policy was and what was being done.
It is a frustration for many parents.
The Washington Bar Association held a panel discussion Thursday to address bullying and explained what it is by law in the District of Columbia.
“It really has to do with persistent conduct that ends up harming a student or interferes in their ability to enjoy school and get all the benefits that you can from school,” said Karen Evans, president of the Washington Bar Association.
D.C. Public Schools has a specific definition and specific guidelines to address bullying.
Steps for parents that include:
- Gathering information and listening before taking action. Even asking the child to write down what happened in their own words.
- Then make a plan and even role play to show kids how to appropriately handle the issue.
- It is important to report the bullying to the school or agency. A school must then start an investigation within two days and complete it in 30 days.
“We also know that suspending those kids doesn’t do anything to change the behavior and does something to increase our school to prison pipeline,” said Suzanne Greenfield, director of the Citywide Bullying Prevention Program for D.C.
What is surprising to parents is that the repercussions for bullies don’t always include suspension or traditional punishments. Experts say the goal should be resolving the issue and not punishing another child.
“The person who is the bully has a problem too, and so discipline doesn’t necessarily address the underlying problem,” said Evans. “So if you suspend the kid, when they come back, there’s still going to be bullying.”
If an investigation finds there wasn’t bullying or if a victim is dissatisfied with the resolution, an appeal can be filed or even a lawsuit.
But the Washington Bar Association said legal action should be a last resort.
The D.C. bullying prevention policy applies to all public places governed by the D.C. government, such as libraries and community centers.
If the bullying happens at a school, the first step should be to contact the school office. But parents in the District who feel they need additional resources can contact the Office of Human Rights or the Office of the Chief Student Advocate.
For more information on those offices and other resources on bullying, go to:
Bullying Prevention in D.C. Public Schools
District-wide Model Bullying Prevention Policy
Citywide Youth Bullying Prevention Program
Office of the Chief Student Advocate: