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Fight to Stamp Out Bullying, Safe-Schools Chief Urges

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This week marked the first week back to school for students in a number of cities. But not all children find this time of year a happy one, among them the one in three, or estimated 18 million, who will be bullied in school this year.

Keep those children in mind as you continue your work, Kevin Jennings, the assistant deputy U.S. secretary of education for safe and drug-free schools, told advocates, educators, and researchers as he closed out the federal government's first anti-bullying summit. He provides the estimate of the number of students who will be bullied, which comes from federal statistics.

"We're in this for the long haul," Jennings said of the anti-bullying effort.

As that movement goes forward, some educators are urging their peers to communicate how eliminating bullying is not an add-on, but rather part of a larger effort to improve school climate.

"The more this issue can be put in a proper context, the more we can get away from educators saying, 'You're putting another thing on my plate,' " said Jim Dillon, a retired elementary school principal who now works as an education consultant.

Improved school climate, which includes tackling bullying, leads to improved student educational outcomes, he said.

Because we're all about point and counterpoint, here are some perspectives from those who aren't exactly singing from the same hymnal as most of those who attended the federal conference, or are offering different angles on the issue.

A study done by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, finds some positive effects from bullying for some students, namely those who are "pro-social" and more likely therefore to fight back against bullies. (Hat tip to a reader for the find.) Needless to say, however, the researchers don't advocate that children be bullied.

And Kenneth Trump, the president of National School Safety and Security Services, a Cleveland-based consulting firm, is no fan of anti-bullying laws. He posted a blog entry earlier this week that has gotten a lot of traction and sparked strong agreement and disagreement. Trump says the movement toward anti-bullying laws is heavily influenced by the political aims of gay-rights groups that he believes are pushing for such laws as part of a civil rights agenda.

"The politicization of school safety to further any political, civil rights, or other agenda is deeply concerning. Playing politics with school safety weakens school safety and creates divisiveness. In the end, school safety will lose far beyond the agenda of one particular issue such as anti-bullying when school safety becomes a political football," he wrote.

Part of his concern, Trump told me in an e-mail this week, is that there's so much focus on anti-bullying policies to the exclusion of schools' and districts' implementation of comprehensive school safety plans, which he says is a best practice.

"We cannot have roller-coaster school safety policy and funding at any level of government. Throwing money at school safety after a high-profile incident is no wiser than is cutting school safety funding when there is not a tragedy in the headlines. School safety policy, programming, and funding must be ongoing, sustained, and reasonably funded for the long haul," he said.


[UPDATE 8/16: Thanks to all of your for your thoughtful comments and e-mails over the past few days. I'm loving the exchange of ideas, so keep it going. Hot off the presses this morning is a new Spotlight on bullying from Education Week, where you can read a mixture of news stories and commentaries on the issue. Happy reading!]

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