Antibullying specialists said school officials have to put the safety of victims first, but they also need to focus more on the accused bullies. Banishing them from school, they said, is generally not the best way to deal with the problem.
“Expulsion is not the way to go; it’s harmful,’’ said Barbara Coloroso, a specialist on bullying and author of a number of books, including “The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander.’’ “Instead of coming down heavy, they need to come up with a decent plan that holds bullies accountable, holds bystanders accountable, and keeps the targets safe.’’
Coloroso said schools should institute “restorative justice,’’ which supports victims and helps them stay safe while teaching bullies about the impact of their actions and giving them “the opportunity to make right what they’ve done . . . to own what you did and then attempt to fix it.’’
Recently there has been a spate of suicides by bullied students. Students who have been bullied, then have also bullied others, are at a high risk of hurting themselves, she said.
Dr. Elizabeth Englander, a psychology professor at Bridgewater State University who founded the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center, said schools are often in a no-win situation when it comes to allegations of bullying.
“When their children are victims, parents want schools to be very authoritative, take control, and remedy the situation,’’ said Englander, whose group provides antibullying training statewide. Yet, she added, parents also undercut the authority of schools by challenging authorities when they discipline their children for bad behavior.
“If your child breaks a rule, they have to own the fact they broke a rule and take the consequences,’’ Englander said.
Englander and Coloroso said it’s important for school officials to investigate allegations of bullying thoroughly to determine the role each student played, then try to discipline them in a way that helps them and holds them accountable.
“I think what the lesson has to be is we have to stop focusing on the good guys and the bad guys and that the good guys are totally innocent and the bad guys are totally guilty,’’ Englander said. “If we want to avoid children committing suicide, we need to connect with them to understand what’s going on with them and help them."
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