The Bullying Threat

by Kerry Beldin, Associate Professor at the School of Social Work at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, and NFP board member

This past holiday season, the family of Ben Lewis had to celebrate without him. In November, the 15-year old Lincoln East sophomore took his own life at his grandmother’s home. According to the family, Ben’s suicide was yet another tragic end to ongoing victimization and bullying by peers. Stories such as this have become sadly commonplace as the topic of bullying has garnered increasing attention both at the national and local level.

According to KLKN TV Channel 8 in Lincoln, Ben’s history and profile are not surprising. Diagnosed with Asperger’s Disorder, a condition that can make academic environments challenging and social interactions difficult, Ben had left an Omaha school to avoid the bullying he had experience there. Following his death, his family states they wished he would have spoken out, wish he would have told others he was experiencing bullying. Ben’s uncle, Jeremy Bibelheimer is quoted by the news channel as saying, “Schools advocate 'We have a zero-tolerance policy against bullying' and what exactly does that mean? Yes, you have a zero-tolerance policy but what does that mean? What are the resources? What's that you know?"

The point Mr. Bibelheimer makes is a good one. At a time when bullying as a concept is getting increasingly more attention, the need to discern what it is that schools are doing specifically to address the issue at hand is more apparent. It is one thing for a school to have a policy to address bullying, but it is another thing entirely to put that policy in place. By law, Nebraska schools are required to have a policy that addresses bullying. At the present time, there is no official strategy for determining if that policy is actually enacted, enforced or followed in any significant way.

So, as a parent or as a concerned citizen, what can one do to help insure that our schools are effective and responsive to bullying incidents? Taking Mr. Bibelheimer’s question and asking it of the administrators of your local school district is a good first step. Click here for more questions that should help you determine the extent to which your school district is addressing bullying: http://nebraskansforpeace.org/time-to-help-stop-bullying/

At NFP, we’ve been actively involved in efforts to pass LB 205, the bill that requires all Nebraska schools have a bullying policy, as well as efforts to implement the required policies—because we know that simply having a policy on the books is not enough. School officials must create a culture in which bullying is identified and responded to swiftly and effectively if we are to reduce the number of bullying incidents in our local schools each year…

And hopefully, avoid another report of a young individual paying the ultimate price because they could not endure the bullying to which they were subjected.

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