Key US court decision on bullying & school

By Anne Collier

This may be a big step forward for US anti-bullying efforts: A recent federal court decision in Michigan sent “a clear message to schools that inaction, or even a simple unwise reaction, is not enough when it comes to dealing with bullies,” author and cyberbullying researcher Justin Patchin blogs. The court ordered a Michigan school district to pay $800,000 “to a student who claimed the school did not do enough to protect him from years of bullying,” according to the Detroit Free Press. The verdict “puts districts on notice that it’s not enough to stop a student from bullying another.” Dane Patterson, the victim in the Michigan case, “was in middle school when the bullying began as simple name calling and verbal harassment. It escalated in high school and included being pushed into lockers and at least one incident in 10th grade where he was sexually harassed,” Patchin relates. It’s not that his school didn’t do anything at all about this, it just didn’t change a thing. The occasional disciplinary action accomplished nothing, apparently. Patchin cites court records saying that, at one point, a teacher even joined the bullying by asking Dane in front of an entire class how it felt to be hit by a girl. “This is almost unbelievable,” Patchin writes. I agree. He goes on to write about what does help, and I’ve written about it too (see this, but I have to be repetitive because this is so relevant, here: “Because a bully’s success depends heavily on context, attempts to prevent bullying should concentrate primarily on changing the context rather than directly addressing the victim’s or the bully’s behavior,” wrote Yale University psychologist Alan Yazdin in Slate.

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