Education officials taking stand against bullying

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SALT LAKE CITY -- It's called a nationwide epidemic, and now schools and the government are going on an all-out offensive against bullying in all its forms.

Between 15 to 25 percent of students are bullied, while 15 to 20 percent say they bully others.

"It is not just face-to-face bullying, but the new technology has given an anonymity to how this is happening with young people," says Jill Cook, with the American School Counselor Association.

A new survey by the Josephson Institute of over 40,000 high school students found that 55 percent of boys and 33 percent of girls admit they themselves bullied, teased or taunted someone in the last year; 44 percent of boys and half of girls say they have been victims.

Bullying is a problem so big the U.S. Department of Education sent a letter to schools across the country reminding them what they can do to combat bullies. The letter warns schools if they tolerate bullying and harassment in some cases, it could put them in violation of federal law.

Rates of bullying are higher among younger students; almost 43 percent of 6th graders report being bullied, compared to about 24 percent of 12th graders. -U.S. Dept. of Justice.

The letter is intended to help educators understand their legal obligations in protecting students. Tolerating or ignoring harassment based on race, gender or disability can violate anti-discrimination laws.

In Utah, educators say they are doing everything they can to prevent bullying.

"It just really has no place in schools at all," says David Doty, superintendent for Canyons School District. He says his district will not tolerate bullying.

Earlier this month, letters were sent out to teachers in Canyons School District urging them to put a stop to any bullying behavior they see in the classroom, especially anti-gay taunting.


"We need to do more to make sure we are preventing it and addressing it seriously when it does occur," Doty says.

The effort to combat bullying has become stronger at the school level and across the country after a series of tragic suicides by students who had been bullied. One of those students was Tyler Clementi, a freshman at Rutgars University who killed himself after his roommate allegedly posted an online video of him and another man.

The problem has caught the attention of President Obama, who posted a video message last week for those who've been bullied. And Tuesday, letters from the education department outlined when a case of bullying is based on gender, sex, race, religion, disability, or national origin, it becomes a civil rights violation.

"Students not only have the right to be protected from bullying as a general matter, but they have civil rights that are protected by federal statues, in some cases, and the United States Constitution," Doty says.

Verne Larsen oversees bullying prevention programs at the State Office of Education.

"It's very difficult for us to reach our educational academic goals. When kids don't feel safe, they're not going to reach those goals," Larsen says.

Larsen says Utah lost about $1.5 million in federal funding that once went toward anti-bullying, safe schools and drug abuse campaigns. But he says it will take more than money to solve the problem.

"We don't need funding to be civil to one another and to treat one another with kindness," says Larsen. "We have, over the years, been digressing in that regard, and we really need to come together and treat one another in a civil way."

Last year, the Utah Board of Education passed a new rule about bullying in which they beefed up the training requirements. They also required every school district in the state to have a bullying policy in place.

"We're talking about all kids, no matter what's going on -- race, ethnicity -- we are all human. We all need to be treated equally," Larsen says.


Story compiled with contributions from Anne Forester and Mary Richards.

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