By editorial board • 

Ensuring safety of students should top schools’ priorities

Two years ago, Ohio 13-year-old middle-schooler Emilie Olsen died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

She was a straight-A student with a perfect attendance record, standout athletic skills, a love for horses and an infectious smile. But she was the victim of relentless bullying at Fairfield Middle School, to the extent she couldn’t take it anymore.

Citing a litany of fruitless attempts to make the school crack down on the tormentors, her parents responded by filing an 82-page federal lawsuit. Their mission is to establish a chain of accountability to prevent other parents from mourning the loss of children in like circumstances.

It’s a cause we embrace ourselves and encourage school systems everywhere to embrace. There is simply no excuse for allowing rampant hazing and bullying in American schools.

To its credit, at least one local school district — Sheridan — is already responding to the call. Alarmed by a survey showing 73 percent of parents view bullying as an ongoing problem at the district’s K-8 Faulconer-Chapman School, Supt. Steve Sugg decided to contract with a San Francisco firm to develop an anti-bullying program for districtwide implementation.

Both national and international studies suggest bullying is most severe, and inflicts the most corrosive and pervasive consequences, at the middle school level. But those studies also reveal how efforts to establish a preventive culture are most effective when they start in kindergarten and continue through high school. So Sheridan seems to be on the right track.

According to DoSomething.org, dedicated to combating the scourge, more than 3.2 million students report victimization annually, triggering physical, mental and emotional trauma, stress and depression, loss of self-esteem, social and academic withdrawal, and potentially suicide when all else fails.

It says 71 percent of students consider bullying a problem at their school and 67 percent feel their school does a poor job of dealing with the problem. It says boys are more likely to engage in physical bullying and girls in emotional bullying, and 90 percent of their grades 4-8 peers report having been victimized at some point.

Most shockingly of all, perhaps, the agency says 25 percent of teachers regard bullying as nothing more than a nuisance or rite of passage, and only 4 percent are willing to intervene when instances occur in their presence.

That situation has to change. Teachers must have zero tolerance for bullying — or hazing for that matter, as it simply represents another insidious form.

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