On Bully Free DC anniversary, signs of progress

Tomorrow will be the first anniversary of Mayor Vincent Gray’s Bully Free DC Day, an effort to highlight and combat bullying in the District. The anniversary is timely, as both DC Public Schools and Mayor Gray released anti-bullying plans in the past month.

Here at DC Action, we believe every child should have all the resources needed to reach their full potential. Bullying fosters an environment based on fear and disrespect, and can harm both physical and psychological health of children. In the school setting it also can compromise their focus on academics, limiting their ability to reach their full potential.

Bullying and harassment are pervasive in District schools. According to the 2010 DC Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 28% of middle school students said they’d been bullied at school, and 11% said they’d been bullied electronically. Among high school students, 10% reported at-school bullying, and 11% reported electronic bullying.

With this widespread problem, it is important and urgent to focus on this issue here in D.C., especially when almost all states have already enacted anti-bullying legislation (46 at the end of 2011, according to the U.S. Dept. of Education).

The need for legislation is obvious. Bullying and harassment severely disrupt learning environments, and breed an atmosphere of intolerance and hatred. No child should be put in that position.

Beyond these most obvious and immediate effects, a Sept. 6 Washington Post article highlighted an additional consequence of bullying: a drag on student achievement. Research at nearly 300 high schools in Virginia revealed that campuses with more reported bullying had lower passing rates on the state’s standardized tests, showing that bullying reaches beyond its direct victims to impact schools as a whole.

So, while legislation is a critical step in proving resources against bullying, the way schools implement and change their policies and practices may be most important.

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