The local news has focused on bullying after a young girl reportedly attempted suicide in a Baltimore City School as a result of this torment. Even Dr. Alonso, the CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools, has written an op-ed in the Baltimore Sun weighing in on the topic. It is a subject with which we at CFCC are all too familiar, as it often is identified as a cause of truancy for a number of children in our Truancy Court Program.
Truancy does not always involve the act of “playing hooky.” A child may also stay home from school in order to stay safe and avoid harassment at school. For decades, researchers have warned schools, families, and communities that bullying can lead to truancy. One student (or more) constantly physically and/or emotionally harasses another student and, as a result, the targeted child develops a complex. In response to lower self-esteem, confirmation of insecurities, fear of harassment at school, and/or concern for physical safety, the targeted child does what s/he can to stay home from school.
Parents and teachers may be unaware of such bullying because children may fear an increase of harassment if it is discovered that they have tattled. As a possible result, a bullied child may play sick for many days in a row to avoid school. A parent may not understand the real reason the child is staying home from school. The school, on the other hand, may think the parent negligently is allowing his or her child to miss too much school. While the parent gets frustrated by the school’s questioning and telephone calls, and the school loses faith in the parent’s intent to send his child to school, the child holds this secret close to his heart and continues to suffer in fear of attending school.
|First Lady of Maryland and District Court Judge Catherine
Curran O’Malley (left) and law student fellow Stacy D.
Copeland (top right) listen to a TCP student during a
session at Barclay Elementary/Middle in Baltimore
The question arises: What can be done?
There is no one answer to this question, but CFCC successfully has identified, addressed and resolved numerous bullying cases in its over six years of operating the Truancy Court Program.
With everyone at the table and the calm, caring, and confidential nature of the TCP, students can divulge the real reason for their absences. This often comes to the complete surprise of the parents and/or schools. Once this secret is revealed, the volunteer District or Circuit Court judge places the burden on the schools to investigate and address the situation.
In one instance, the school police have addressed the bullies directly, describing possible legal ramifications of bullying. Though removal through suspension may seem like a plausible provisional fix, Dr. Alonso correctly points out that it is not a permanent solution because it does not address the root cause of the bullying. The impetus behind the bully’s actions may reveal a need for further guidance and intervention, so a holistic approach, with confrontation and mediation among the students, the families, and the school, is essential. Of course, as the Gilmor Elementary School third-grade student highlighted in the news could probably tell you, schools and parents must first listen to students. The TCP is the type of setting in which such conversation occurs – where the parents and school officials listen to the students. A resolution that all parties have had a role in crafting is the most effective way to stop bullying now and to prevent bullying in the future.