The chancellor of D.C. Public Schools announced Friday that she has pulled together an Anti-Bullying Advisory Committee and that it will hold its first monthly meeting on March 21.
The mission of the panel — whose members will include about 40 principals, central-administration and other school-based staff, as well as community experts (a catch-all term if ever there were one) — is to:
• Identify the school system’s strengths and limitations in preventing and managing bullying.
• Review best practices and research.
• Develop a comprehensive framework and plan for anti-bullying initiatives.
Chancellor Kaya Henderson made it to first base when, in a statement released Friday she said, “If students don’t feel safe at school, it creates a barrier to their pursuit of a quality education.”
But citing data from the 2010 Youth Risk Behavior Survey to support the need for an anti-bully panel suggests she also hit a panic button when there is no cause for alarm.
According to Ms. Henderson, nearly 10 percent of traditional high school students reported being bullied on school property in the last 12 months, while 27 percent of middle school students felt bullied. “Additionally,” the statement said, “over 10 percent of students reported being electronically bullied (also known as cyberbullying) in the last 12 months.”
Those stats show cause for concern not alarm.
There is cause for alarm with Ms. Henderson’s approach.
First, the anti-bullying panel is scheduled to meet just four school days after the announcement, suggesting the chancellor has been working out of the eyesight and earshot of parents, clergy and neighborhood leaders — who are the true community experts.
Second, children and older youths can be more turf-oriented than adults. For example, close an inner-city school without parental and community buy-in and force students to venture into others’ neighborhoods and you’ll find yourself looking for fresh batteries for that panic button (Think Anacostia High after Eastern High closed, and Hart Middle School after PR Harris closed).
Third, children call other kids out their names all the time, and that usually doesn’t stop unless a parent or other adult disciplinarian says, “Hey, stop it.”
Fourth, teens and young adults circulate in cliques of a natural class or ethnic strata, or, as young ones, move in contrived circles devised at the hands of their parents. Sometimes they are school- or faith-based cliques, and sometimes they are merely outings scheduled for routine romps in a neighborhood park or quiet times at the neighborhood library.
I point out those four real-life issues not because they are independent occurrences but because they make up the whole cloth of how children react to other children.
Change any or all of those dynamics and Ms. Henderson and her panel could disrupt the health, education and welfare of a generation of children as young as 2 and young adults as old as 21 — and without any support or buy-in.
The likely result of the Henderson panel’s framework is either more children will be suspended or kicked out of school and/or the school system will begin the paper trail so the “bullies” land behind bars.
Either way, the chancellor will be creating “a barrier to their pursuit of a quality education.”
• Deborah Simmons can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org