The Bully Project is an advocacy and educational organization inspired by the award-winning film, Bully. Since 2011, Bully has been seen by more than 3.8 million children through nearly 12,000 school and community screenings. Working with more than 100 partners globally, The Bully Project motivates and builds capacity for educators to create safer schools, reduce bullying, and improve educational outcomes for all.
Adele P. Kimmel is a senior attorney at the D.C. headquarters of Public Justice. In 2013, Kimmel spearheaded Public Justice's Anti-Bullying Campaign, which seeks to hold school districts and officials accountable for failing to protect students from bullying, make systemic changes in the ways that schools respond to bullying incidents, and educate attorneys about best practices for handling bullying cases.
"Public Justice launched its Anti-Bullying Campaign to ensure that our nation's schools do a better job of preventing and responding to bullying, and to hold schools accountable when they fail to protect our children from bullying," Kimmel said. "Despite anti-bullying laws and policies across the country, many school administrators, teachers, and other staff turn a blind eye to bullying. They simply are not doing enough to make schools safe for our children. Our project is designed to change this. Through litigation, we effect systemic changes in the ways that schools respond to bullying incidents and obtain justice for bullying victims and their families."
The need for such advocacy is widespread.
"Students who identify or are perceived as LGBT are targeted for bullying at particularly high rates," Kimmel said. "The abuse faced by many LGBT kids was part of what inspired Public Justice to launch its Anti-Bullying Campaign, and we are committed to making schools safer for LGBT kids."
The media often focuses on the victims of bullying when the bullies themselves are most likely also victims.
"Schools should be helping both the target and the perpetrator of bullying," Kimmel cautioned. "The key to ending bullying and harassment is training and education. Not only should all students should receive appropriate anti-bullying training and education, but all school administrators, educators, and other employees should be trained and educated on how to recognize and report bullying and harassment. In addition, counseling should be available for both the victim and perpetrator."
Kimmel added, "Schools sometimes punish the perpetrators of bullying when counseling, training, and education would be better options. For example 'zero tolerance' policies against bullying often lead to automatic suspensions or expulsions, which take kids out of school and increase the likelihood that they will end up in jail later on. This is not a good solution to bullying. Though there are certainly times when a suspension or expulsion are warranted, if we really want to stop bullying, schools need to do a better job of helping both victims and perpetrators."
All 50 states currently have anti-bullying statutes. "Montana was the last hold-out, but finally passed an anti-bullying law this year," Kimmel said.
"Bullying and the Law: A Guide for Parents" is a new resource guide available to teachers, students and parents.
"As a parent who happens to be a lawyer with expertise on school bullying issues, I wanted to 'pay it forward' to other parents," Kimmel explained. "So I put together a free online resource for parents to help them address school bullying. The guide is being launched in partnership with The Bully Project from award-winning filmmaker Lee Hirsch."
The guide is intended to help parents understand what the law requires schools to do to address bullying, what they can reasonably expect from school officials when their child is a target of bullying, and what options are available when schools fail to take appropriate action.
For example, Kimmel said that if people believe their children are being bullied by school peers, here are three important things to know:
Report the bullying to a school employee with authority to take corrective action. Telling a teacher may not be enough.
If a school attempts to remedy the bullying by having a child change his or her class schedule, say "no." The burden of changing schedules should fall on the aggressor, not the victim.
Make sure the school informs parents of the process to follow, in case there are subsequent bullying incidents.
"Just as I have seen school officials turn a blind eye to bullying, I have seen parents make unreasonable demands on schools about the action they should take to stop bullying," Kimmel said. "My hope is that 'Bullying and the Law' will arm parents with the information they need to advocate effectively for their children and work cooperatively with their schools to address bullying."
The free guide is available at www.thebullyproject.com/bullying_the_la.