In a recent Boston Globe article, several Massachusetts school administrators discussed how they were implementing (or not implementing) the new state requirements for bullying.
The new anti-bullying law can potentially expose schools — and individual staffers — to lawsuits by parents or state authorities if incidents of bullying are not handled properly.
One of the key requirements is for school leaders to thoroughly investigate all reports of bullying and document actions taken. One superintendent claimed, “I like to keep the informal stuff in my head.” But, keeping informal reports and incidents in one faculty member’s head provides no documentation of a student skipping school, claiming harassment online, being bullied in the hallway, etc. and can potentially expose this school to a lawsuit down the road. What if a young boy commits suicide tomorrow and all of the teachers and staff who witnessed him being bullied numerous times had not come forward and reported the incidents?
As one school psychologist, said, “Consistently documenting problems to make sure none fall through the cracks can potentially prevent tragedies like the high-profile suicides of Phoebe Prince in South Hadley and Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover in Springfield…It strings together a series of events that in isolation may not seem like a big deal but could be if you put them together, maybe then a story is told.’’
Because bullying is typically not a one-time event for the bully or the victims, it is critical for school leaders and team members to understand there is more value in having documentation than not having documentation. Awareness is critical, and sharing information among P.E. teachers, faculty, janitors, students, parents, community members, etc. can often help identify at-risk students and connect the dots to determine the full extent of a situation. School leaders and employees must also be held accountable for reporting incidents so red flags do not continue to be ignored.
All incidents must be documented and thoroughly investigated if schools want to protect their students and provide a safe learning environment ongoing.
Among the values of comprehensive documentation are better decisions, better prevention, better intervention, reduction of liabilities, better compliance and a better bottom line because every situation has a cost (money, time, resources, reputation, etc.) and the lack of documentation could lead to significant “costs” with:
- Prevention failures
- Intervention failures
- Listening failures
- Trust failures
- Lack of Legal Defensibility
- Deliberate Indifference
- Lack of Lessons Learned for future reference
- Monitoring failures
- Lack of Follow Up
- Lack of Behavioral Analysis
- Failure to Connect the Dots
Implementing proactive prevention tools is also much less expensive than the losses that occur if a student loses their life.
To learn how your school can improve documentation efforts immediately and ongoing click here.