The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


April 28, 2014

Jennifer Easley | Bully-prevention act stalled in committee

JOHNSTOWN — Recent events have once again brought school violence to the attention of our community. There are accusations of possible bullying and cyberbulling leading to the cause of the Franklin Regional High School stabbing.

Headlines attributing bullying to school violence are nothing new in our society. The social problem of bullying is the main cause of school violence and is associated with long-term mental health problems that can follow into adulthood. However, not all violent cases are correlated with bullies; the home environment, social connectedness, learning impairment, and anger management cause some.

The Center for Safe Schools defines bullying as an aggressive behavior toward another individual that is intentional, severely persistent and associated with an imbalance of power. It can take many forms as physical, emotional and even severe exclusion of an individual.

Bullying has been recognized by the American Academy of Pediatrics and other major professional organizations as a serious medical and public health issue. They have issued policy statements in which pediatricians and other clinicians should address bullying jointly with parents, educators, and community organizations.

Statistically, 1 in 7 students in kindergarten through 12th grade is either a bully or a target of bullying. Almost 300,000 students are physically attacked in secondary schools each month with 90 percent of fourth- through eighth-graders reporting being victims of bullying. Harassment and bullying have been linked to 75 percent of school-shooting incidents.

Following the suicides of four students in 2012, the youth-led Pennsylvania Student Equality Coalition (PSEC), along with other participants, created HB 156, the Pennsylvania Safe School Act (PASS Act). The PASS Act amends the Public School Code of 1949, making the reporting of bullying more efficient and requiring training for teachers to recognize and manage bullying. It is a bipartisan bill with state Rep. Dan Truitt, R-West Chester, as the primary sponsor. Truitt introduced the PASS Act to the House of Representatives on Sept. 14, 2012, as HB 2464. It was reintroduced on Jan. 23, 2013, as HB 156 with extensive bipartisan support. The PASS Act has over 25 partnerships including the Association of School Psychologist of Pennsylvania, The American Foundation of Suicide Prevention, and The Pennsylvania Counseling Association. All this support and it is still sitting in the education committee. Pennsylvania currently has the fourth highest level of bullying in the nation, as well as deficiency ratings from the U.S. Department of Education.

Many area schools already go beyond the current 2008 policy amendment with such programs as H.A.L.T. Bullying Prevention, Olweus Bullying Prevention and zero-tolerance policies already in place. Many of the schools also offer The NED Show, which is a character-building program that uses motivational assemblies full of humor and yo-yo tricks to encourage students on a broad spectrum, improving student behavior and character.

Bullying is present everywhere, but it is more prevalent at school. Studies have shown anti-bullying programs are effective in reducing bullying incidents. If passed, the Pass Act will require programs like the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program to be implemented, bringing the rates of bullying down, while bringing a greater awareness to not only the students, but parents and the community as well. If we reduce bullying, we reduce violence, suicide and the probability of mental health issues for our children.

Bullying will never completely go away, but as a community we can work together to reduce the effects. Educating parents and the community about the resources available to help prevent bullying and working together instead of against will greatly reduce the school violence we have been witnessing and unfortunately living through.

Bulling is an ongoing epidemic that is affecting the entire student population. Policy is slowly being adopted to combat the issue, along with public awareness campaigns.  There are too few local organizations working toward eradicating this problem from the school system.

Children deserve assurances that their environment is violence- and bully-free so they can thrive academically. Politicians, teachers, parents and organizations must come together to inform the public on the PASS Act, ensuring it becomes law.

Jennifer E. Easley, a resident of Johnstown, is working toward a master’s degree in social work at the University of Southern California.

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