Central Regional School District has been much in the news because 14-year-old Adriana Kuch committed suicide after administrators and teachers allegedly didn’t bother to intervene as four other girls videotaped her beating. Now the district is making headlines again. In this case, the parents of a student with autism are suing because their son has been enduring “a hostile, intimidating and abusive educational environment” at Central Regional Middle School dating back to 2021. The principal there is accused of “showing willful indifference to the illegal and actionable harassment” against the student.
And in Mt. Holly, 11-year-old Felicia LoAlbo-Melendez was repeatedly bullied, even after she begged for help from school administrators who, said her mother, “ignored her cries for help.” Two months ago, and two weeks after her father died, Felicia killed herself in a school bathroom.
We’re seeing higher rates of bullying since schools reopened after the pandemic. The Asbury Park Press reports today that in shore districts “investigations into race-based bullying and harassment was up 25% while investigations into harassment involving gender and sexual identity was up about 42% last year compared to the year before the pandemic.” (The paper compiled the numbers itself because the New Jersey Department of Education “does not present that information in a collective way.”)
Throughout the state, bullying incidents were up 29% compared to 2018-2019, the last full school year before the COVID-19 pandemic (although sometimes, as in Asbury Park, the bully is an adult).
Rates are up throughout the country: many educators, according to Education Week, say they are facing “an uptick in student misbehavior that appears to be associated with challenges related to the return to in-person learning after extended periods of remote or hybrid instruction.”
What should school leaders do, especially as our political polarization worsens and once inexcusable behavior (especially on social media) goes mainstream?
There are two research-based approaches for reducing bullying: Changing the school climate and having an effective social-emotional learning program. Here is advice from the Children’s Health Council: