Should the feds fight school bullies?

The federal government says schools must protect students from bullies or they'll lose federal aid. Is this the right way to fight the problem?

Schools from elementary on up to university level must establish plans to tackle bullying or face losing federal funding.
(Image credit: Corbis)

In the wake of several high-profile teen suicides, Washington is warning schools to do more to prevent bullying — or risk losing federal aid. Earlier this week, the Department of Education sent a letter to schools across the country, from elementary schools to universities, telling administrators they could be violating civil-rights laws if they don't protect students from ethnic, sexual, or gender-based harassment. The Obama administration is saying we're no longer going to treat bullying as just "an unfortunate aspect of growing up," says NBC Washington. Is this a good approach to stamping out bullying?

This could be too little, too late: It's "heartening" to see the federal government finally taking "its first strong steps against bullying," say the editors of the Los Angeles Times, but "federal civil-rights laws are an awkward tool for changing student culture on campus." It might help in "extreme cases," but the majority of bullying victims don't fall in any protected category. They "have the right to feel safe on campus" too, and this belated offensive won't help them.

"Defunding bullies"

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It is not Washington's place to police the playground: "While I agree that bullying is a problem," says Maureen Downey at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "do we need the White House to put it on its agenda?" My daughter's experiences have made it abundantly clear to me that "kids can sure be mean to one another." But as long as parents and teachers make sure a situation doesn't get out of control, sometimes it's best to "step back and let kid justice prevail."

"School bullying: White House takes on bullying today. Does it belong on the federal agenda?"

We should be punishing bullies, not schools: The Obama administration's little letter is nice, says Jamelle Bouie at The American Prospect, but "a serious effort to tackle bullying would include actual criminal penalties" for the bullies, rather than threatening schools over the actions of young thugs. "Most forms of bullying amount to little more than extortion and violence, and if these were adults, we wouldn't even hesitate to bring law to bear on this behavior."

"Bullying Is a crime"

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