Dear Miss School Manners: My first grader is being bullied at school – punched, slapped, pinched and pushed by different students ganging up on her. It’s been three weeks and my heart is breaking. I tried to call the principal, but she won’t return my calls. What do I do now?
Signed, Anguished in Richmond
Dear Anguished: Bullying is heartbreaking – and insidious. Often, children don’t report bullying to their parents or teachers, or they wait until they’re truly desperate. They’re embarrassed, say the experts at StopBullyingNow.com, or frightened of their attackers, or they don’t want to be labeled as a tattletale…
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But bullies are playground thugs – boys and girls who play out their little power trips on the blacktop, in the classroom or halls. Sometimes it’s a physical assault. Other times, it involves mental anguish. And often, it takes adult intervention to make it stop. So don’t tell your child to ignore the behavior, says the StopBullyingNow tip sheet. Ignoring it allows it to escalate. Don’t tell your child to hit or fight back. Fighting will get her suspended. And resist the impulse to contact the bully’s parents. They need to be brought into the picture, but it is the school’s responsibility to deal with them, and your informal intervention may actually make matters worse.
The school staff is your best ally – if they’d return phone calls, right? So let’s talk about that. Schools are obsessed with “following processes.” Problem is, they rarely share that process with parents. But here’s how it works. Think of a school like a corporation or a government agency – you know how much they love org charts. Schools do too. So when you call with a problem, you’re supposed to approach your child’s teacher first, because he or she knows your child and the school environment best. If you go to the principal first, the principal (or her gatekeeper) will punt it back to the teacher, because that’s the process. And they may not tell you that’s what they’re doing. No wonder you feel ignored. So you call again and this time you’re angrier, right? Your kid is getting beaten up and the principal doesn’t even have the decency to return a lousy phone call. By the third or fourth phone message, you’re so mad, you can hardly string a sentence together – and now you’re labeled “the hysterical mother.”
So here’s what you do instead. First, gather every bit of information from your daughter – what happened, where, when and who saw it? Then call your daughter’s teacher and request a face-to-face meeting to resolve the bullying situation. Be calm and rational, but be firm. The bullying must stop. Your child’s right to feel safe at school is written into California’s Education Code. There’s no gray area here. If the bullying persists, then call the principal, and tell him or her that you have already met with the teacher. And that list you have? The one with the bullying incidents? Add the date(s) you met with the teacher and a summary of what transpired. You’ll take it with you when you meet with the principal.
The vast majority of these cases get taken care of at the school site level, but if you have to chase it all the way up the org chart, that paper will serve as documentation at each level. And in the rare cases where a family actually had to take a school district to court, that documentation provided proof that school officials knew the bullying was occurring and did nothing to deal with it. But so much has been done in recent years to heighten awareness about bullying and its psychological impact on children, it’s a rare educator who still thinks playground bullies are a normal part of growing up. We think you’ll find that you and your daughter’s teacher and principal are all on the same page. Good luck.
– Miss School Manners