Federal partners joined together today for the second annual Bullying Prevention Summit, a two-day event hosted by the U.S. Department of Education in partnership with eight other federal agencies that make up the Federal Partners in Bullying Prevention Steering Committee. The event engages representatives from federal agencies, national organizations, parents, teacher and students to discuss and share progress on anti-bullying efforts across the country.
According to recently released data by the National Center for Education Statistics, more than 70 percent of students play some role in bullying, whether as a bully, a victim or a witness, demonstrating the need for increased awareness. Other research suggests that bullying and harassment can lead to poorer educational outcomes, lower future aspirations, frequent school absenteeism, and lower grade-point averages. This year’s summit puts a spotlight on the anti-bullying efforts of governmental and nongovernmental organizations, and helps plan steps needed to sustain and advance bullying prevention efforts in the coming year.
“Bullying affects not only the child or children it targets, but the entire community that surrounds them – their parents, their classmates, even the child engaging in the bullying,” said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan. “Keeping our children safe is everyone’s responsibility, and I’m proud to come together with so many national leaders, parents, teachers and students to reaffirm our collective commitment to prevent bullying in every way possible.”
Last year, the Department held the first-ever federal summit on bullying to help inform federal practice and encourage public engagement. Since then, leaders and advocates have made significant progress in promoting bullying prevention, including extensive outreach by the U.S. Department of Education to ensure that schools, districts and states are fully aware of their responsibility to prevent bullying.
In October 2010, the Department’s Office for Civil Rights issued a “Dear Colleague” letter to elementary schools, colleges and universities, providing guidance on student bullying. The guidance made clear the extent of current laws, which include protection against harassment of members of religious groups based on shared ethnic characteristics as well as gender and sexual harassment of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals.
In December 2010, Duncan sent a technical assistance memo to all governors and chief state school officers outlining the key components of existing, comprehensive state anti-bullying laws and policies. The memo included a clear and comprehensive definition of bullying, detailed reporting, investigating and responding procedures, graduated consequences for those engaged in the behavior, and referrals to mental and physical health resources.
In June 2011, Duncan issued a “Dear Colleague” letter reaffirming the rights of students to form Gay-Straight Alliances and other student groups under the Equal Access Act, noting the important role they can play in promoting safer schools and creating more welcoming learning environments. The letter further urges administrators, faculty members, staff, students, and parents to use the guidelines within the Equal Access Act to develop or improve district policies.
Over the past year, the Department has partnered with the Office for Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to host a number of webinars that have reached a nationwide audience, addressing topics such as when bullying constitutes discriminatory harassment and how to constructively intervene in bullying situations. The Department’s Safe and Supportive Technical Assistance Center has also developed training modules specifically for bus drivers after the release of surveys showing that they don’t feel prepared to handle bullying on their buses.
Currently, the Federal Partners continue their work to address challenges surrounding bullying, including efforts to develop a uniform definition of bullying led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and to analyze the effectiveness and comprehensiveness of state anti-bullying laws led by the Department. A final report detailing the content of state laws and model policies based on the December memo is expected to be released later this fall.
In addition to the Department’s efforts, there has also been an unprecedented commitment over the last year to address bullying by both the private and public sector. Back in March, when President Obama held the Conference on Bullying Prevention at the White House, nearly every education related organization, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the National Parent Teacher Association, and the National School Boards Association, pledged to address bullying in some way. Both the American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association have participated in campaigns to engage and train teachers around bullying prevention. And summit participants, including representatives from ABC Family, the Ad Council, AOL, Facebook, Formspring, MIT, MTV, Sesame Street, Seventeen Magazine and TimeWarner are all raising awareness for children, parents, and youth service providers through targeted programming and dedicated anti-bullying campaigns.
In celebrating the extensive anti-bullying work, outreach and public engagement, Summit participants also acknowledged the need to resume collective efforts toward bullying prevention. In his remarks, Duncan reiterated the U.S. Department of Education’s commitment to continue working with federal partners to provide guidance, technical assistance, and frameworks to address bullying. He also called on advocates, students, parents, teachers and administrators to help inform guidance and policy.
“None of us can confront this alone,” said Duncan.“When we stand together we can address bullying and fight the hatred, bigotry and fear that divide us. Our children deserve a chance. We must support them.”
To learn more about anti-bullying efforts across federal agencies, visit www.stopbullying.gov.