To the Editor:
In response to the July 11 Athens NEWS article, “Meigs Dad Seeks Change After Daughter, 12, Took Her Life Following Reported Bullying” by Conor Morris.
I want to commend Rob Scribner for sharing his daughter Jaden’s story, and for continuing to raise awareness regarding bullying and harassment in schools. Bullying affects virtually everyone in the school environment – those who are bullied, those who bully, and those who witness bullying. Bullying can take many forms, but at its core it can be distilled down to unwanted, aggressive behavior between students that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. This type of behavior can deeply impact children, as we learn from Mr. Scribner’s moving account of the profound effect bullying had on Jaden.
Ohio state law requires school districts to have policies prohibiting harassment, intimidation and bullying. Unfortunately, these policies are often difficult to find, and even if a family is savvy enough to locate the policies, navigating the complaint procedures can be overwhelming. If a child has a disability, or if the bullying is targeting a protected class, such as gender or race, additional federal protections may apply. Districts can face significant financial liability if they are found to be deliberately indifferent to the bullying a child experiences at school.
As a Southeastern Ohio Legal Services attorney representing low-income families in education disputes in multiple counties, I am often approached by families whose child has experienced harassment or bullying. These families are in crisis, concerned for their child’s safety, and unsure about the next steps. Here is what I tell them:
1. If your family has concerns that your child is experiencing bullying in the school environment, a complaint and request for investigation should promptly be made to the school, in writing. Most districts require that such reports of bullying be reasonably specific including persons involved, number of times and places of the conduct, and the names of any potential student or staff witnesses. Make sure to date and make copies of the complaint.
2. Request a safety plan while the investigation is occurring. Perhaps you can identify a trusted adult whom the student can approach if bullying is occurring? Is additional supervision required, or a no-contact order? Should social media monitoring be implemented?
3. If the investigation substantiates the bullying claims, interventions and remediation should be implemented by the school district. This may mean a change in class schedules, counseling for either or both students, restorative justice, self-advocacy training for the bullied student, or long-term additional adult supervision in certain environments.
Each bullying situation is different, and often finding a route forward will involve hard work by the families and educators working together to identify creative solutions and supports for all children involved. The support system and services described by Jaden’s family as the plan for the foundation “Forever Jaden” sounds like it can be an integral part of this route forward for students in our region.
Thank you Mr. Scribner for bravely sharing Jaden’s story to better inform our whole community about how serious an issue bullying can be.
If your family is low income and have a child that may be experiencing bulling, give us a call. We can give advice, provide copies of required school district policies, and often negotiate a resolution. The services are always free for financially eligible families.
Lucy Schwallie, Managing Attorney
Southeastern Ohio Legal Services