An Interview with Lisa Maatz: How Bad is the Bullying Problem and what can be done about it?

Aug 7, 2012 by

Lisa Maatz

Michael F. Shaughnessy –

1) Bullying seems to be in the news constantly across all 50 states. In your mind, what does this say about the current generation of kids?

That they’re not much different from the last generation of kids, number one. Bullying and harassment has been a long-term problem for many years, but social media has exacerbated it and made the consequences even more dire.

2) Now, are schools under-reporting, over-reporting, accurately reporting or doing some cover up?

This is the first year that the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education has required the reporting of sexual harassment and bullying based on sex through the Civil Rights Data Collection program. It’s clear from this publicly accessible data that schools are underreporting at least at the national level. There are some states that have local rules where schools are reporting, and there are then actually cases where the state data and the federal data as reported don’t match. This says to me that definitions are not clear or consistent and that more technical assistance is needed. It also illustrates how badly we need training for Title IX coordinators across the country.

3) The President and vice President are on t.v. with some Public Service Announcement about preventing spousal or female abuse. Will this make any appreciable difference?

It’s always important for people in power to use their bully pulpit to call a spade a spade, in this case to say that domestic violence is wrong, unacceptable, and won’t be tolerated. Will that necessarily stop any particular abuser from battering a partner or spouse – that’s hard to tell. But I do know from my experience as a battered women’s shelter director that this kind of public acknowledgement and support can be what tips the scales as a woman is trying to decide whether to stay or go.

4) Many teachers I talk to feel that these “bullies” should be handled by parents or police. Your thoughts?

Ideally, it should be handled by parents and school officials together. Not all sexual harassment or bullying is going to rise to the level of criminality that would indicate that police need to be called. Parents have unique responsibilities and need to watch closely for signs of bullying, both as the aggressor or the victim, in their children. But it is school officials, particularly teachers, who are with those children several hours a day and witness this behavior firsthand. Teachers need to be trained to intervene when they see sexual harassment and bullying. And school Title IX coordinators need to be well-versed in how to handle a situation, resolve it, and report it appropriately. Bullying and harassment clearly disrupt many children’s opportunity for a good education. This is fundamentally part of why Title IX came about. School officials unquestionably have a responsibility to implement and enforce this law.

5) And there are other teachers who feel that these “bullies” are simply emotionally disturbed and behaviorally disordered and should be evaluated for special Education services?

If that’s the case, then 16 percent of our student population — according to AAUW’s own research —would fall under that implausible definition of emotionally disturbed and behaviorally disordered. This defies reality and is simply not true. Besides which, bullying and sexual harassment are specific behaviors that flourish in poor educational climates. We need to address those behaviors and actions regardless of any potential problems the perpetrators may have.

6) Counselors- what can they do- and how culpable should they be held? And principals?

Title IX as it applies to sexual harassment and bullying based on sex has been litigated over the decades regarding school officials’ responsibilities and culpabilities in such situations. The typical standard is that not only did school officials know that harassment was occurring, but that they also did little to nothing in response to that knowledge. In other words, a blatant disregard of parental or student complaints would demonstrate knowledge and lack of action. It is clearly a failure to protect student victims in the face of complaints or observations.

7) You and I know the importance of accurate, valid, reliable data. Are we getting it?

Not from school districts, and students and teachers underreport it too.

8) Does the AAUW have a specific position paper or policy statement, and where could it be accessed?

See AAUW’s latest research, a nationally representative survey on sexual harassment in schools. You could also see AAUW’s Title IX position paper on bullying and sexual harassment.

See AAUW’s latest research, a nationally representative survey on sexual harassment in schools: http://www.aauw.org/learn/research/upload/CrossingTheLine.pdf.

You could also see AAUW’s Title IX position paper on bullying and sexual harassment:http://www.aauw.org/act/issue_advocacy/actionpages/titleix.cfm

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