Bullies not tolerated like they used to beWritten by Brandi Barhite | Community Ombudsman | email@example.com
Jon Borland knows what it is like to be bullied.
“I was ostracized in school because my parent was an assistant principal,” said the 25-year-old Marion, Ohio, native. “I wasn’t out at the time, but I did get called gay a lot … I am short and have a high-pitched voice so that worked against me.”
Borland, who lives in Toledo, is the new executive director of Equality Toledo. A branch of the organization is the Safe Schools Project, which addresses bullying.
“The one thing I would suggest to parents is to actually listen to their child. Don’t just brush it off and say, ‘I got bullied in school,’” Borland said.
On behalf of the Safe Schools Project, Rob Salem, clinical professor of law at UT Law, has trained more than 1,000 teachers on bullying.
“The first thing we try to do is raise awareness,” he said.
Salem said Ohio’s new law only requires each school district to enact anti-bullying policies that must include certain elements. Unfortunately, the law is weak in that it does not require “enumeration” of categories, and it does not require a thorough definition of bullying to include cyber bullying, a major form of harassment that kids today seem to prefer, he said.
Enumeration means specifying targets of bullying, according to Salem. In a survey of Ohio students ages 13 to 18, the majority cite physical appearance as the most common reason students are bullied and harassed (49 percent), followed by sexual orientation (18 percent) and gender expression (9 percent).
Salem said the new law also does not necessarily require training of school staff. It only says that trainings should be offered if funding is available; however, the Ohio Department of Education is mandating each district to offer trainings.
Borland said students have to deal with some forms of teasing, but among the possible signs it has gone too far are changes in eating habits, fighting with parents and siblings and not turning in homework.
“When I was younger, it did affect me,“ Borland said. “I wasn’t completely depressed; I did internalize it. I didn’t have many friends when I was in high school.”
Salem said he wouldn’t recommend a student who is transgender, for instance, to report the bullying to an unfriendly principal. Instead, seek out a friendly teacher or administrator.
Once informed, adults need to put the report of bullying in writing. The key is to follow up and try to talk to other professionals at the school, discuss how to care for the student and how to protect the student, Salem said.
Maine resident Stan Davis, founder of Stop Bullying Now, said in the early 90s, bully victims were told to stand tall and act like they weren’t bothered. That is changing, he said, because what is acceptable when it comes to teasing is being defined.
“What level of mean behavior do kids have to deal with and when does it intervene with learning?” Davis said.
“I don’t like you” or “you cheated” are comments young people have to deal with, but cruel comments about their families, twisting of nipples and sticking a head in a toilet should not be tolerated, he said.