One example of poor handling of the problem occurred in Buncombe County. A 9-year-old boy who was bullied for having a “My Little Pony” lunchbox and backpack was told by administrators to leave the lunchbox and backpack at home, according to salon.com.
Eventually, the school relented and allowed the boy to bring the items to school.
Such an approach characterizes the worst approach to bullying by combining administrative laziness with victim blaming in a way that does nothing to help the problem.
Admittedly, all schools and administrations will have problems trying to fight bullying, because finding the right approach can be difficult, given theoretical and practical constraints.
Of 300 anti-bullying programs examined by the Department of Education in 2011, only 19, fewer than 8 percent, were found to be evidence-based. Overall, only 3.5 percent of all anti-bullying programs are implemented properly.
Finding policies that work within specific school environments takes effort. Without a solid grounding for policy, we see administrators proceeding haphazardly, as in the Buncombe County case, or implementing misguided zero-tolerance policies.
Despite the problem of establishing tested programs, there is evidence that anti-bullying programs can have a positive effect.
A December 2009 meta-analysis from Campbell Systematics Review examined 53 evaluations of bully programs and found that anti-bullying programs can be effective in reducing rates of bullying by an average of between 20 percent and 23 percent.
The best approach is to take comprehensive plans that involve not only students, but administrators, teachers and parents. This approach was supported by a May 2009 report of the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing.
Administrators are crucial components of any anti-bullying effort. And in the Buncombe County case, the administrators failed.
In this case, administrators dealt with the problem by sanctioning the child who was bullied, thus reinforcing the idea that the bullies were in the right.
A better solution should involve parents teaching children how to deal with bullying, teaching potential bystanders to stand up, and having administrators who work to see that bullying is dealt with as much as possible.
The Buncombe County case stands out as a counterexample of effective anti-bullying policy, and the negative attention the administrators have rightfully received can encourage other schools to handle bullying problems differently.
Kevin Griffin, a sophomore journalism major from Madison, is an opinion writer.