Saturday, February 6, 2010


Once again, the call is made for schools to do what the parents do not (or cannot).

Expulsion from school for something that happened off campus, out of the school's jurisdiction and out of the school's control? Should we expel students who take a summer vacation to Florida and smoke pot on the beach? Or one who steals money from the till at their part-time job? Or one who cyber-bullies over accounts the school did not set up, can't supervise and doesn't control?

Bullying is a problem. The new laws against it aren't a solution that makes sense or that can be applied fairly by schools (by fairly, I mean in ways that don't simply get the school sued every time). Does the school do something if the bullied person is at a different school? Are we just reacting because of a pretty girl who committed suicide - because someone said mean things about her nude photos sent to several teenage boys?

The urge to "Do Something" is strong. The limits on what a school can do are also strong.

The school cannot subpoena anything or anyone and they have no ability under the law to coerce students into revealing anything. They cannot pry into personal matters or demand that you reveal the contents of your computer. They cannot eliminate cellphones, never mind require that boys and girls stop sexting. They cannot stop them dating the "wrong" boys, or getting tattoos that proclaim themselves tramps or sluts or pimps or hos, or stop them from driving too fast, or texting behind the wheel or updating their Facebook page with "I'm a prostitute for him." The kids have rights.

If the new laws were to make it possible to defend the rights of the victims, it'd be great, but I'm not holding my breath. Schools can only react to a "crime" or an offense already committed in the school (or on a school-sponsored trip). The current law is very clear on this. They cannot require that people with histories be removed from their schools to forestall future crimes.

Furthermore, bullying is rarely out in the open where teachers can see it. Only the aftermath is visible to the teachers and even then is often obscured by rage or clothing. Expecting that teachers will be the policemen and investigate off-campus crime is laughable. Do you want me poking around in your kid's life out of school just on the off-chance that I might find an issue? You'd scream and rightfully so.

"Few cases are prosecuted because they are extraordinarily difficult to prosecute," an article says.

When it gets reported, then what? Give them a "detention"? How about a "suspension," which for those in question amounts to a vacation from school. Can you prove it? Do you have actual evidence or just hearsay? Is it a crime to call someone a slut or is it something the kid should shrug off? How about for the twentieth time today? Did he get tripped and punched where someone believable could see it clearly? How much jostling is bullying - or is it horseplay among friends - and who decides? (We've already gone too far this way - a friends punch to the shoulder landed him out for a week).

If the school expels the kid, it's still not over. He goes to another school but he still knows everyone. If the other school won't take him - no wait, they can't refuse - the law says that you have to provide a Free and Appropriate Public Education. Or you contract out to the reform school-type thing - $50k a year for the alternative - and the kid keeps bullying from there. There's still a Facebook. Now, how do we deal with it?

Making a bully get a job is usually the best way to smarten him up - because the adults there won't tolerate it. (Military is just better and quicker at this step.) That's all fine, but will anyone accept a school determining this?

You cannot stop bullying because that is the nature of people in a closed society, which is what teenagers essentially are. I don't want to sound defeatist, but don't expect any law to change fundamentally obnoxious people or save everyone from the bullies.

We still need parents to help their kid get past bullying and be enough of a presence and caregiver that they don't resort to suicide or murder.

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