Diabetes Related Bullying in the School Setting
Today, as I perused the Washington Post, I found an editorial by Robert Friedman, "Our chance to stand up for bullied children," where he asked the Washington D.C. council to pass the Bullying and Intimidation Act of 2011. According to Mr. Friedman, "the law would require schools and other agencies to establish policies prohibiting intimidation, harassment, or bullying carried out through written, verbal, or physical gestures or acts based on distinguishing characteristics, including race, religion, ancestry, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, or a mental, physical, or sensory handicap." According to Mr. Friedman, 47 states have already enacted bullying legislation.
As a resident of Maryland, I researched Maryland law and indeed found that on May 13, 2008, Governor Martin O'Malley signed a comprehensive anti-bullying law that protects all students from bullying or harassment. Accordingly, the law will require each school district to develop bullying prevention programs for students, staff, volunteers, and parents.
The Maryland Bullying/Harassment State Board of Education Regulation states that "all students in Maryland's public schools, without exception and regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, language, socioeconomic status, age, or disability have the right to educational environments that are safe, appropriate for academics, and free from any form of harassment. The following section delineates the appropriate steps if bullying is reported.
Code §7-424.1 (2008) requires the State Board to develop a model policy prohibiting bullying, harassment, or intimidation in schools. The model policy shall include the following: (1) A statement prohibiting bullying, harassment, and intimidation in schools; (2) A statement prohibiting reprisal or retaliation against individuals who report acts, (3) A definition of bullying, harassment, or intimidation that is either the same as set forth in Code §7-424 (2008) or another definition not less inclusive, (4) Standard consequences and remedial actions for persons committing acts, for persons engaged in reprisal or retaliation, and for persons found to have made false accusations; (5) Model procedures for reporting and investigation of acts; and (6) Information about support services for bullies, victims and bystanders and about the use of the reporting form.
As bullying is a pervasive problem in schools and is an equal opportunity evil, inflicting pain and fear in many students including those with diabetes, the learning environment is severely disrupted. The person that bullies usually has psychosocial issues that need to be addressed by a professional as soon as possible to discover the reasons for his/her need to terrorize other students. The child that is bullied will not only need immediate protection by law, but to develop lifelong coping strategies that will support self-esteem and confidence as he matures into adulthood. There have been multiple studies in the pediatric literature interviewing the bully and the bullied victim. Many years later, the bullied victim will recall incidents in vivid detail; however, the bully would often not remember them at all. And if they did, would even ask the victim for forgiveness.
Never the less, our children with diabetes must feel safe in schools and be protected by law. They need to be able to go about their diabetes self-care skills, use the best technology available and desired, and participate in all activities without harassment. In Maryland, the law is in place, now we must make sure it is enforced with the appropriate teeth to ensure that no child, regardless of any differences is harassed by another.
In conclusion, my suggested next steps for the family and child with diabetes that experiences bullying in the school:
1. Contact the school immediately and provide the link to the Antibullying law above.
2. Notify the school that your child's safety must be ensured according to the law.
3. Notify the American Diabetes Association, specifically Crystal Jackson, the school liaison to the ADA. Crystal is an amazing advocate for our school children with diabetes. The ADA should advocate for our children and may do so in a public manner by employing the media.
4. Lastly, it is important to help your child to learn resiliency. Despite laws that are meant to protect us, it is my belief that in the moment children should learn the ability to protect themselves by words or other non-violent means. If one can prevent these incidents by empowerment of the child who is a potential victim, etc., perhaps the bully would think twice before harassing that child. Role playing is one effective strategy that might empower the child as he leaves for school to boost confidence.
In summary, no child should ever be subjected to bullying as it often results in both immediate and lifelong consequences. Forty-seven states have school laws to prevent bullying. However, bureaucracy takes time and it is important to also empower your children to become as resilient as possible to try to help prevent bullying before it even starts.