Federal and state laws like New York State's Dignity for All Students Act (2010) protect students from bullying and harassment. School districts must have policies and practices in place as well as designated individuals to handle complaints.
Creating a supportive environment for students to report instances of bullying and educating kids about it is are ways the White Plains City School District addresses the problem.
Superintendent Joseph L. Ricca, Ed. D. gave suggestions for parents to educate their children on dealing with bullies at school and talked about how the White Plains district addresses the problem. His background includes serving on Gov. Chris Christie's Anti-Bullying Task Force when he was East Hanover Public Schools superintendent.
"First, parents should discuss how to handle situations with their children. Always reach out to an adult in an instance of concern. Next, parents should feel comfortable contacting their child’s teacher at any time."
In addition to the normal communication procedures, Ricca's district "actively works to educate against bullying and our helping support professionals work closely with our children, parents, teachers, and administrators when an instance of bullying is suspected," said Ricca.
Schools need to recognize the existence of bullying and work to identify and correct the behaviors through support and education.
"We believe that it’s critical to foster positive home/school relations to support all students. In this fashion, instances of bullying can be reduced and if they do occur, they are identified quickly," he said.
Help comes in all forms in White Plains, according to Ricca. "We work with our children to report instances of unkind behavior – even if they suspect that something has occurred. Once identified we have support professionals at the ready to assist in all manners."
Asked about some of the trends he's seen, Ricca said, "Bullying is an age-old problem. Today, social media has the potential for instances to occur. In recent years we see that students are more empowered to speak out against bullying behaviors. We have identified the behavior and set clear expectations for our children."
Districts also seek innovative ways to educate students about bullying.
Dow Lane Elementary School in Irvington recently hosted a visit from a national touring organization called Box Out Bullying that specializes in combining research-based bullying prevention with live theater.
The lively presentation has "serious lessons that give students answers they need to sustain a positive school culture. Bullying doesn’t just affect the school, but the entire school community,” said the organization's Founder and Creative Director Jeremy Rubenstein.
Over 160,000 students skip school every day because of fear, according to Rubenstein.
Staff training is also part of the organization's prevention component. Box Out Bullying provides faculty professional development and parent workshops.