Nevada’s Office of Safe and Respectful Learning recently launched a new website for students and parents to report bullying online, raising questions about how the virtual approach will correct real-world problems in schools.
“The legislature made the reporting system possible,” Christy McGill, director of the Office of Safe and Respectful Learning, told KOLO. “They took a real hard look at the bullying that had gone on in the past in our schools and they decided enough is enough.”
In 2015, lawmakers appropriated funds to the Nevada Department of Education to create the Office of Safe and Respectful Learning, which is tasked with maintaining a 24-hour, toll-free statewide hotline, as well as an internet site, for anyone to report bullying.
Both the hotline and the site, bullyfreezone.nv.org, are reportedly designed as avenues to report bullies without having to confront them, according to the news site.
“If you think back to when you were bullied,” McGill said, “your worst fear is to meet your bully head-on.”
According to bullyfreezone.nv.org:
The Bully Free Zone web site is designed to assist students, parents and school staff with bully prevention methods. The resources and information included in this web site are structured to be easy to use for everyone. This is not an inclusive list of resources.
The mission of the Office for a Safe and Respectful Learning Environment is to train, empower, educate, collaborate, advocate, and intervene in order to ensure that every student in Nevada, regardless of any differing characteristic or interest, feels fully protected physically, emotionally, and socially. We believe that by creating a safe environment, one which is fostered by a caring adult relationship, all children will thrive to meet their passions and aspirations. This office is responsible for the foundational four levels of a hierarchy of learning: physical needs, safety, belonging, and self-esteem.
In addition to the online reporting system, the site also offers lesson plans, an educator “share fair,” “students in the spotlight,” and bullying information by school district. There’s also tips for families, safety pledges, and advice on how to deal with bullies.
Once a bullying report is made, “a school official will promptly begin to investigate the situation,” according to EdScoop.
What’s not apparent, however, is how the reporting system will correct the underlying problems that are driving the problem in schools, particularly a lack of support for educators to take action.
Murray Milner, senior fellow at the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, notes in his book Freaks, Geeks, and Cool Kids, that “bullies have always been a problem.”
“Part of growing up is learning to deal with them,” he wrote. “But this does not mean that young people should be without assistance in this regard.”
Milner’s research shows high-schoolers do not receive much support against bullies, in part because teachers ignore cruelty unless it spills over into actual violence. The situation, Milner argues, stems from teachers’ lack of power and support from school officials to take action.
Teachers are also often tasked with monitoring hundreds of students in as many as five classes per day, which is further complicated by a lack of authority to issue sanctions against bullies.
Many parents are aware of the situation and many have struggled to convince school officials and teachers to take a more active role in policing bullies.
Increasing knowledge of the problem is good, but an online reporting system does not ensure teachers have the knowledge or authority to take action when necessary.
Virtual means cannot correct the flaws in real communities.
And it begs the question: If parents don’t feel comfortable reporting problems directly to school officials, why would they have any confidence those officials will follow through on the electronic alerts?