Thursday, October 14, 2010

How independent schools take responsibility for bullying

I was reading a Huffington Post piece written by blogger John Merrow on the suicide of the talented young musician who was a student at Rutgers. The writer posed some important questions: "was it a hate crime? Sexual harassment? Cyberbullying?"

However, the most important question he posed was the following: "what is an institution's responsibility?"

We at MPH in the Middle School take bullying very seriously. We have a working, clear definition of bullying. We have a program, called Olweus, that is tested around the world. We have a document, the Commitment to Community, that is discussed and signed by all members in the community. We will have numerous speakers in, from the DeWitt Police Department and Vera House, to Community Centers and Dojos. We do an online climate survey on bullying, with all students. We have books assigned to faculty for summer reading. We created a class, Life Skills, to address issues. We go to workshops and seminars for more research and data. We have advisors versed in the issues and trained to work with kids on relational aggression. We communicate all of this to faculty, students and parents - in person, in groups, in the mail and with email. And then we communicate it again. And again. We do an unbelievable job.

As the author states "leadership cannot split hairs and decline to get involved. It's their job, like it or not. How they respond matters, and the key is to be pro-active, not wait until something awful happens. The good news, as I will explain, is that the law is on their side." I agree. This is what we do, and we do it better than any school I know.

He goes on to write, "First consider how non-public schools function. Most have a code of conduct, one that their students must accept. So if a student from Andover, St. Joseph's or Pencey Prep does something on a weekend that is an egregious violation of the behavior code and is caught, that student would suffer the consequences. No way the school head could drop that "not my responsibility" line and get away with it.

And parents and students at these schools are made aware of the rules, which are spelled out in detail. As Patrick Bassett, the head of the National Association of Independent Schools, notes, "Parents and students are often required to sign a document indicating that they have read and agree to the expectations as specified in the Student Handbook."

"Bassett says public schools can copy this approach. "Any school, public or private, can make character a core element of its standards and program. Any school that doesn't do that fails to educate the whole child. The 3 Rs of the academic curriculum ('reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic) must be accompanied by the 3 Rs of the character curriculum, (respect, responsibility, relationships)."

The key point here from Bassett as well as the author is that schools embrace values. And having values is "generally a 24/7 proposition." This is what we believe in the Middle School. This is what needs to be done at all schools, not just MPH.

To read more from Merrow, go to his blog -

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